From the MN Broadband Coalition…
Broadband Legislative Update
Saint Paul, Minn.—A lot has happened since we last provided you with a comprehensive update on broadband legislation, so let’s get right to it.
Legislative Break and What’s Ahead
The Legislature is currently on a one-week break for the Easter/Passover holiday. They will return April 5. This break happens every session and is when lawmakers to head home to their districts, hear from constituents, and, most importantly, get a break from each other and the partisan nature of life at the Capitol.
1st and 2nd committee deadlines are now in the rearview mirror. Every bill that’s introduced must receive hearings before these deadlines in the appropriate committees if it is (potentially) included in the committee’s omnibus funding or policy bill. 3rd deadline is coming up on April 9th, which is the first Friday after legislators return to the Capitol. Each committee must pass their budget by 3rd deadline and send it along to the general finance committee so it can be put together with other committee budget bills and become the state’s biennial budget omnibus bill. The House and Senate will have quite different budget bills because each chamber has its own priorities. However, broadband funding will almost certainly be in both budget bills.
Where Does Broadband Stand?
The House and Senate have heard several bills this year including funding and policy legislation. Here’s a quick look at the budget proposals from each party:
- Senate GOP: $40 million, first year only
- House DFL: $30 million biennial
- Governor Walz $50 million, first year only
These are significantly lower than the recommended $120 million biennial recommendation of the Governor’s Broadband Task Force as well as the main funding bills in the House and Senate. Part of this is due to the uncertainty over the RDOF program and how much funding will come to Minnesota from the FCC. We hope and intend to ask legislators to raise those figures during negotiations.
Once the budget omnibus bills are assembled by the House and Senate, leaders from each chamber and party will negotiate with Governor Walz. They must come to an agreement and pass a budget by the end of session on May 17th or special sessions will be necessary to complete the work.
The Senate and House are both moving forward with the broadband easements bill HF 686/SF 1304 which would allow electric cooperatives to build broadband infrastructure on existing electricity easements. The bill will likely be part of a Commerce omnibus bill in the House. Its outcome in the Senate is still uncertain. It is currently in the Civil Law and Data Practices Committee awaiting a hearing.
The Senate has also considered a few other broadband provisions including the addition of “fixed wireless” to the statutory definition of broadband and restricting the state from investing in areas scheduled to be built out with federal funds. The Coalition has expressed its concerns with both bills during their hearings. These provisions have not received hearings in the House.
Broadband Virtual Day on the Hill
March 24 was our annual Day on the Hill event and this year it was held virtually. We had over 80 people attend the event that was held from 9:00am-12:00pm. Although we wished we could have seen each other in-person, the virtual event allowed us to hear from more broadband leaders than ever before. We heard from U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, State Rep. Rob Ecklund, State Sen. Tom Bakk, Director of the Office of Broadband Development Angie Dickison, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Deputy Legislative Director April Jones, and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. We want to thank our speakers as well as all of you that attended, asked questions, and made appointments to speak with your legislators.
Once legislators return from their weeklong break on April 5, we will be entering the most dynamic part of the legislative session. Things can change by the day and even the hour as we approach the end of session. We will keep you up to date with information when we know it.
I posted video of the Day on the Hill last week.