MN Rural Broadband Coalition: Legislature Adjourns, No Deal on Additional Broadband Funding – May 18, 2020

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Adjourns, No Deal on Additional Broadband Funding
Saint Paul, Minn.—The final seconds ticked off the clock of the 2020 Legislative Session on Sunday, May 17, but lawmakers weren’t able to finalize a deal to send additional funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. Competing proposals were debated by the House and Senate in the final two weeks of the session. The Senate passed SF 4494 on May 4 and sent it to the House for consideration. The House amended SF 4494 to reflect their priorities in the Ways and Means Committee on May 15 and moved it to the House floor. There, it awaited legislators to negotiate an agreement that would resolve the differences between the House and Senate positions.
The differences are small but make the two bills drastically different. Both chambers agreed that $10 million should go to the broadband grant program. But they disagreed on how to fund it.
The Senate proposal said broadband funding must qualify for the federal coronavirus relief funds or the appropriation would be cancelled. The House proposal also had broadband funding come from the federal coronavirus relief account, but would spend $10 million from the state’s general fund to cover the appropriation if it didn’t qualify for federal relief dollars. Negotiations between key legislators were ongoing through the final days of session. However, a deal that could pass both chambers and receive Governor Walz’s signature never materialized. The bill would have increased available funding for the upcoming round of grants from $20 million to $30 million.
(Note: A full breakdown of SF 4494 is included at the end of this update.)
Governor, Legislature Eye June 12 For Special Session
Legislative work is likely not done for the year. Broadband was far from the only item that legislators needed more time to settle their differences. An agreement on the state’s biennial infrastructure bill—known at the Capitol as the bonding bill—fell apart on the final day of session. Both the House DFL and Senate GOP majorities brought up bonding bills in their chambers, but neither were able to get the 3/5 majority votes required for passage. Housing, COVID-19 relief, and state employee contracts are just a few other outstanding items.
Legislators indicated on the final day of session that they would need to reconvene to finish their work, possibly as soon as June 12. House and Senate leadership and the Governor expressed their interest in scheduling a special session, but only the Governor can call legislators back to the Capitol now that they’ve adjourned for the year. June 12 is also the day Governor Walz’s emergency powers will expire. If he wants to extend the emergency powers for an additional 30 days on June 12, he will need to call the Legislature back to session so they can vote on the extension. The extension would be approved unless both the House and Senate vote against it, which is unlikely. We should know more about the details of a special session in the coming days, so stay tuned.

SF 4494 Details

Senate Proposal

  • $10 million for Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Focuses dollars on unserved areas of the state.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $8 million for technology reimbursement grant program for schools
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Grant applications from the following areas are prioritized:
      • Location of school to an unserved area of the state
      • Percent of students that live in a household without broadband
      • Percent of students that receive their internet service through the school
    • Program reimburses schools that have purchased technology for students that don’t have broadband access at home so they may participate in e-learning during the 2019-2020 school year.
    • Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Program reimburses licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.
    • One-time appropriation.

House Proposal

  • $10 million for Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Focuses dollars on unserved areas of the state.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $15 million for technology reimbursement aid program for schools
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Every school in the state is eligible, regardless if they are near unserved areas.
    • A school is eligible for an amount equal to one of the following, whichever is less:
      • The school’s expenditures for technology to connect students
      • $15 million divided by statewide enrollment times the number of students enrolled in the applying school.
    • Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Program reimburses licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.

One-time appropriation.

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, MN Broadband Fund Awards, 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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