The Session Daily (from May 21) reports…
With time to work dwindling, a conference committee working to reconcile agriculture bills came to an agreement on several appropriations and policy changes Saturday.
The conference committee report to HF3420 combines the omnibus agriculture and broadband supplemental finance and policy bill with one that would provide relief to farmers from the 2021 drought.
It was passed 69-64 by the House a few hours later. It now awaits Senate action.
“We’ve got a very strong, solid bill for the state of Minnesota on all the fronts for farmers, for agriculture, for rural broadband and the connectivity that’s become so important in our lives,” said Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), who sponsors the bill with Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko). “We can be, I think, proud as a conference committee to be a big piece of this policy and financing that will be moving forward.”
“It’s been somewhat of a longer journey than probably necessary, but I think we hit on all the points,” Sundin said. “Had we had more money, it would have been a little better bill.”
The combined total in new appropriations for agriculture, drought relief and broadband would be $50.9 million from the General Fund in the current biennium and $32.5 million in the next biennium.
Improving broadband access throughout the state would get a big boost. An appropriation of $25 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2023 would be transferred to the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development must also prepare a grant application to the U.S. Treasury Department, requesting that $60.7 million of Minnesota’s capital projects fund be allocated for broadband projects.
The total would fund a lower population density pilot program to provide broadband to unserved and underserved areas, as well as a broadband line extension program.
It’s a little bit of the best from the House and the Senate. The Senate had recommended $110 million in federal funds to broadband, while the House is recommended $25 million from General Funds. It’s less money than the Senate recommended but having money coming from the general funds means the Border to Border grants can happen without the red tape of the federal government.