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March 8, 2019



Governor Walz Signs First Bills 

This week, Governor Tim Walz signed two bills into law – the first new laws of his administration. Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing the only divided legislature in the nation, the two bills receiving his signature funded the troubled Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) and adjusted the funding source for several public works construction projects from last year. 

MNLARS

The first bill, H.F. 861, appropriates $13.3 million dollars to the Department of Transportation to fund immediate repairs to the MNLARS system which has been plagued with technical problems since the state began transitioning to the new system in 2014. The funding will go to hire outside experts who will report back to the legislature on recommended changes to MNLARS and decide whether the program needs additional funding. To date, the state has spent nearly $100 million on the development and implementation of the new operating system. 

Bonding Adjustment 

The second bill, H.F. 80, adjusts the funding source for projects included in the 2018 bonding bill. Over $102 million in capital constructions projects were funded out of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) last year causing a bipartisan controversy regarding the lawful use of ENRTF dollars. A lawsuit was filed by environmental advocacy groups who argued that the 2018 appropriations from the ENRTF are outside the scope of the original intent of the constitutionally dedicated fund. The pending lawsuit has prevented projects from moving forward in their construction processes – increasing costs and delaying project completion. 

The new law repeals last year’s session law and re-appropriates the money through general obligation bond authorization. Some lawmakers fought the move, hoping that a court order would provide legislative guidance as to the legality of using ENRTF money for future capital projects. For now, the projects stalled in what was a long legal battle can move forward. 

 
Governor Walz Proposes 100% Carbon Free Energy 
 

Senate On Monday, Governor Walz, surrounded by clean energy industry leaders and advocates, announced his plan to move Minnesota to 100% carbon-free energy by the year 2050. The plan is supported by Minnesota’s Investor Owned Utilities – including the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, which differentiates it from the majority of other renewable energy proposals being floated at the legislature this session. 

The proposal consists of three main initiatives: 

100 Percent Clean Energy by 2050

This standard would require all electric utilities in Minnesota to use only carbon-free energy resources by 2050. The governor said it would give utilities the flexibility to choose how and at what pace they meet the standard. The proposal includes provisions to assist workers and communities affected by the transition, while prioritizing local jobs and prevailing wages for large new clean energy projects.

Clean Energy First 

This regulatory policy would require a utility to prioritize energy efficiency and clean energy resources over fossil fuels whenever it proposed replacing an existing power generation facility. The governor said this new policy would strengthen an existing renewable energy preference in Minnesota law, and it would allow for fossil fuel-based power only if needed to ensure reliable, affordable electricity.

Energy Optimization

This proposal would raise Minnesota’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard for investor-owned electric utilities and expand the Conservation Improvement Program that helps Minnesota households and businesses save on their utility bills by using energy more efficiently. It would also encourage utilities to develop innovative new programs to help consumers and businesses switch to more efficient, cleaner energy. In addition, it would target more energy-savings assistance for low-income households.

Each element of the governor’s proposal is being introduced in the legislature where it will likely meet strong opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Energy Committee Chairman, Dave Osmek (R-Mound), said the proposal “will cause energy prices to skyrocket in our state, put a strain on the budgets of every Minnesota family, and severely impact our business community.”

Find more information on the governor’s clean energy proposal here

Senate Passes “Snow Relief Act” 

School districts that have been forced to close numerous times due to inclement winter weather this year received a bit of relief from the Minnesota Senate this week. In a nearly unanimous vote of 65-2, lawmakers approved S.F. 1743 which allows local school districts to count days and hours of instruction that have been lost due to snow days in their annual, required per-pupil hours for the school year. Without the legislation, many school districts would be required to add additional school days at the end of the year to make up for the losses.

The bill heads to the House next. If it receives support, the governor has indicated he will sign it, stating that schools “should not be punished for keeping kids safe.”House next. If it receives support, the governor has indicated he will sign it, stating that schools “should not be punished for keeping kids safe.”  

House Debates Equal Rights Amendment


Thursday night, the House passed a bill that would give Minnesota voters the chance to amend the state constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment proposal (H.F. 535), authored by Rep. Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton) would ask 2020 voters if the state constitution should add "equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender."

The bill was debated into the evening with the measure being approved along party lines, 72-55. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate where it has yet to be heard in committee and is not expected to advance this session. 

First Deadline Is Next Week 

The first committee deadline is next week, March 15. The first deadline requires all policy bills to receive a hearing in one legislative body. To meet this deadline, committees will start meeting late into the evenings and on Fridays. 

The governor’s budget continues to be informally presented to committees as legislators await bill language that will outline the administration’s specific spending provisions. 

Please reach out to any of the Larkin Hoffman Government Relations team members with any questions.


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