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Controversial ag-environment bill fails Minnesota Senate by one vote

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators defeated by a single vote the spotlight bill of today's special legislative session, raising the possibility of a second special session.

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, wipes his brow as the Senate meets in special session in the State Office Building Friday. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators defeated by a single vote the spotlight bill of today's special legislative session, raising the possibility of a second special session.

On a 33-32 vote, the agriculture-environment funding legislation lost as other budget bills were being passed in an effort to finish the state's $42 billion, two-year budget. The bill needed 34 to pass.
However, the bill could return to floor later in the day if one vote swings. If the tally remains as is, the Legislature would be forced into a second special session.
Some of the most liberal Senate members said the agriculture-environment legislation would weaken environmental protections.
Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, urged senators to vote to return the legislation to negotiations. "Once we have the votes to reject it, then we sit down with the governor and the House."
But bill sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, disagreed with Marty and others who complained about his legislation's environmental impact. "I don't think there is anything in this bill that reduces water quality or environmental standards in this state."
It is time to pass the legislation, Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.
"Everybody has things they want to fight for," Eken said. "There is a time for compromise and that time has come."
As an example of his willingness to compromise, Eken said that he would vote for the measure even though it did not contain a provision he wanted that would allow Red River Valley communities' sewage treatment plants to meet lower pollution standards as long as North Dakota maintains lower standards.
The bill "is the best that we can do," Eken added.
The ag-environment bill was the focus of Friday's special session because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that there might not be enough votes to pass it, which could force a second special budget session.
Friday's special session was called after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed three of five budget bills, including the $17 billion education measure. The state budget is to be $42 billion for the next two years.
Friday's meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.
After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.
"We are making a bit of history today," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. "I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building."
At stake in the ag-environment bill were the jobs of hundreds of state jobs and programs the legislation would fund.
The bill and others include more than $20 million to help farmers whose poultry folks have been infected by avian flu, including state response, mental health aid to farmers and low-interest loans to those affected.
Perhaps the most politically important part of the bill is the impact failure to pass it could have on state parks.
Dayton said his administration would quit taking state park camping reservations Monday if the bill did not pass. State parks and other Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department and other facilities would close July 1 if there were no budget.
The failure of the bill "is not something that is going to be easy to negotiate," Tomassoni said. "I feel that if we don’t pass this today we are in an imminent position of laying off state employees."
Marty disagreed: "It takes one day."
One of the major complaints of Marty and other liberals was elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens' Board, which makes some pollution-related decisions. A controversial western Minnesota dairy farm permit request set off opposition to the board, which Dayton opposed but eventually accepted in pre-special session negotiations.
The bill also includes a Dayton provision to require crops be at least 16.5 feet away from public water. The governor pushed the buffer legislation, and compromised down from requiring 50 feet of vegetation buffers around all water.
Besides complaining about environmental provisions, Marty also was unhappy that a multitude of policy issues were included in the finance bill. "The only way you will get a budget is to take all of these unacceptable provisions."
Protesters stood outside the temporary Senate chambers and outside the office building urging senators to vote against the environmental provisions.

Jobs bill passes
Legislators approved a jobs and energy bill that funds workforce housing, job training and broadband expansion.
It provides a $4 million loan to Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft and allows Iron Range taconite workers and poultry workers with flocks affected by the avian flu to get extended unemployment benefits.
The legislation also provides more government assistance for Minnesotans who use propane for heat.
The House approved the bill 78-47, with the Senate voting 50-14.
The bill lowered spending, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, while making "important energy reforms that will continue pushing us toward our goal of cleaner and cheaper energy for Minnesotans."
“We dispelled this ridiculous notion that higher energy prices create jobs,” he added.
But Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, said the bill will mean fewer jobs across the state.
He said that money Garofalo saved comes from greater Minnesota and Twin Cities economic development programs.
Expanding broadband in rural Minnesota will get $10 million, down from $20 million approved a year ago, $100 million that broadband supporters wanted and $30 million Gov. Mark Dayton suggested. House Republicans began the year with no broadband money in their plan.
"There is no question we have missed an incredible opportunity here," Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, said about broadband.

Education advances
The House approved 115-10 an education funding bill that provides more money to early-childhood programs, but without the governor's wish for universal school for 4-year-olds.
It was expected to pass the Senate later in the day.
The bill adds $550 million to what schools had expected to receive, boosting the per-pupil funding $236 per student. It also adds money for pre-school scholarships that allows parents to spend the funds at variety of schools, not requiring youngsters to attend public facilities.
The bill is $125 million richer and little changed from the one that lawmakers passed before their regular session ended on May 18.

Related Topics: POULTRYAVIAN FLU
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