Legislative Update and Broadband Day on the Hill Recap from MN Broadband Coalition

From them MN Broadband Coalition (you can see video and notes from the day in an earlier post)…

Broadband Day on the Hill; Governor’s Supplemental Budget

From there, we heard from Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove (photo below). Commissioner Grove talked about how every facet of Minnesota’s economy is touched by broadband, especially entrepreneurship in rural Minnesota.
Saint Paul—The Coalition’s annual day of broadband advocacy was another success, so thank you to all those who attended!

We began the day with a slate of speakers including HF 3029 bill author Rep. Rob Ecklund (photo above) as well as SF 3049 author Sen. Rich Draheim (photo below).

They told us about why they chose to be advocates for broadband funding and what we can expect from the legislative process going forward.

Angie Dickison and Dianne Wells from the Office of Broadband Development (photo above) gave us an update and took some questions from attendees curious about the grant application process. The Coalition wants to thank all of our guests who took time out of their busy schedules to speak with us yesterday morning.
After some morning meetings with their legislators and a quick bite to eat, the group was received by Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan in the Governor’s Reception Room in the Capitol. She spoke about the administration’s commitment to supporting rural broadband and how she recently visited her family on the White Earth Reservation and wasn’t able to have an internet connection at all.  It was a real treat to get to visit with her and shows how important this issue is to the administration and that the Coalition’s message of ubiquitous coverage is reaching the highest parts of state government.

Governor’s Supplemental Budget Released
Governor Walz unveiled his $257 million supplemental budget during out Day on the Hill event. Unfortunately, additional funding for broadband was not included. In fact, many items that the governor has publicly supported were not included even though the state is sitting on a $1.5 billion surplus. That’s because the global outbreak of COVID-19 has caused uncertainty in our fiscal future.
“If there ever was a time for a one-page budget this is it,” said Governor Walz during his Thursday morning press conference. “There are going to be resources needed during this pandemic that it makes sense to me to leave those numbers on the bottom line so that we’re in a position to be flexible and react,” said Walz.
The governor also proposed directing $491 million into the state’s budget reserve account, replenishing funds that were withdrawn last session as part of the state’s two-year budget. The governor’s proposal would leave around $750 million of surplus funds unspent.
This proposal is the first step in a process that will determine exactly what the supplemental budget bill will look like at the end of the legislative session. The House indicated earlier this month they will release committee budget targets around March 23rd. We believe the Senate and House remain supportive of additional funding, since broadband funding bills HF 3029 and SF 3049 have had hearings in the respective House and Senate committees.
Our focus must now be fully on the House and Senate, given the governor’s announcement yesterday. We will be speaking with legislators and leadership in the coming days to make sure they know how important it is that the $30 million per year in funding be included in any funding bill that might be passed by the Legislature. This is why it was so important that you all came to our Day on the Hill! Legislators take very seriously the input of their constituents and community leaders and we couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to visit them. If you weren’t able to attend our Day on the Hill, you can click this link to find out who your legislators are. Please, send them a letter or email, or give them a phone call in the next week. They need to hear how important this issue is to your communities.
Legislative Session in Flux
As you’ve all seen, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the reason for mass cancellation of events across the country. The Governor announced Friday that he would be declaring a statewide peacetime emergency as well as unveiling new recommendations from the MN Department of Health that large events of 250 or more people should be postponed or canceled. He has asked the Legislature to move swiftly to authorize more funds to help mitigate the spread of the virus. The Legislature remains open and in session, but the Senate and House are already taking steps to limit large gatherings and group meetings. Some legislators are opting for telephone meetings rather than hold them in-person.
The future of the legislative session is uncertain. On Friday, House Speaker Melissa Hortman told House members and staff in an email that “the schedule of House business will change very substantially in the coming days. As soon as we develop more specific protocols, I will let you know.” We will keep the Coalition abreast of any drastic changes to the legislative schedule as they are released.
Broadband Funding Bill Moving in the House
The Coalition learned Friday that HF 3029 will continue moving through the committee process in the House. The House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division will be making a motion during their Monday, March 16th meeting to move the broadband funding bill to the Ways and Means Committee for further consideration. A final figure for how much the House would spend on broadband this year has yet to be determined, but we are encouraged that the bill is moving along. The committee won’t be taking any testimony on the bill since they already had a full hearing on February 26.
 “Clone” Broadband Bill Introduced in Senate
Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisolm) agreed to be the chief author on a “clone” bill for broadband funding this year. He is joined by bipartisan coauthors Sens. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Andrew Lang (R-Olivia), Nick Frentz (DFL-Mankato), and Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks). We decided to pursue a second bill because the Senate limits its coauthors to five per bill and knew there were many other senators that wanted to show their support for additional broadband funding this year. This symbolic bill will not receive hearings or move through the Legislature.
Right of Way for Co-ops
Our broadband funding bill chief authors Rep. Rob Ecklund and Sen. Rich Draheim introduced another pair of broadband related bills this week. HF 4268 and SF 4198 would allow rural electric cooperatives to install broadband infrastructure on existing easements owned or used by cooperatives, typically on easements where they already run electricity. Currently, cooperatives are not allowed to install broadband infrastructure unless they obtain an additional easement specifically for broadband infrastructure. HF 4268 has been scheduled for a hearing in the House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Committee on Monday, March 16. The Senate has not yet scheduled a hearing for SF 4198.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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