From the MN Broadband Coalition Newsletter…
Legislature Convenes 2020 Session; House Bill Hearing; Senate Broadband Bill Introduced
Saint Paul—The 2020 legislative session is finally underway here in Minnesota’s capital city. Legislators returned to the capitol for a day of smiles and handshakes after spending the last 8 months away from the Legislature. The atmosphere, as always, was quite similar to the first day of school. The House officially gaveled into session at 11:00am and the Senate shortly after at 12:00pm. Committees in both chambers will have their first hearings as soon as the end of this week, though most will wait until next week to start tackling issues of importance. But they will have to begin work quickly since they have just a little over 3 months before they must adjourn on May 18, 2020.
Two new representatives will join the House this year, one Republican and one Democrat. Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River) and Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Minneapolis) won special elections earlier this month. The outcomes of the special elections do not alter the balance of power in the House, where the DFL retains its 75-59 majority. The Senate remains in Republicans hands with a 35-32 majority. Both chambers are up for reelection in November.
Most of the work in the 2020 legislative session will be crafting the state’s infrastructure bill commonly referred to as the bonding bill. This bill is different from the regular biennial budget (passed during last year’s session) because the state borrows money rather than using tax revenue to pay for projects. And because the bonding bill comes with a super majority threshold for passage, it means Republicans and Democrats need to work together to get the bill across the finish line.
Gov. Tim Walz rolled out his proposal over the past few weeks, focusing on housing, clean water, education, and roads and bridges. His proposal clocks in at over $2 billion, making it the largest bonding bill in the state’s history if it’s passed. Republicans immediately balked at the Governor’s bill, saying that borrowing that much is risky and fiscally imprudent. They favor a more modest bill, most likely around $1 billion. Democrats have not released their bonding proposal, but House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said she’ll support as large of a bill as possible without jeopardizing the state’s credit rating. Expect to see competing Senate and House bonding proposals in the first two months of session.
The other big item on the agenda for this session will be a supplemental budget bill. The picture for what will be in the bill and how big it will be remains murky. The state has had a good string of monthly reports that indicate a budget surplus may be coming, but we will not know until the first week of March. That’s when the Minnesota Management and Budget releases its February Budget and Economic Forecast. This report tells us whether legislators will have funding to spend on additional items, including things like the broadband grant program. We have strong support in the House with the bipartisan HF 3029 and Governor Walz has already publicly declared support for an addition $30 million in surplus funding. The November report indicated a budget surplus of $1 billion, but that figure is likely to change when the February report is released.
Senate Introduces Broadband Funding Bill
The $30 million broadband funding bill SF 3049 has been introduced in the Senate. Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) agreed to be the chief author on the bill and we couldn’t be more grateful for his leadership. He represents a district that has many rural communities and understands firsthand the need for broadband access. The following is a list of co-authors on the bill:
- Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth)
- Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake)
- Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch)
- Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids)
The Coalition has received considerable interest from Republican and Democrat senators. We are currently working on a second identical funding bill—known as a “clone bill”—so that more members can show their support. The Senate limits coauthors to 5 per bill, unlike the House which allows up to 40. The next step for this bill is a hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Housing, and Rural Development Finance committee.
ICYMI: Next Coalition Meeting – February 25, 2020
The Coalition will hold a full members’ meeting on Tuesday, February 25th at 3:00pm. The meeting will take place at the League of Minnesota Cities offices (145 University Ave West, St Paul, MN 55103). Call-in information and an agenda will be sent out. Please join us if you are able!