News Categories: Legislative

21 May
By: Steve Fenske 0

End of 2018 Regular Session

Both the House and Senate ended their Regular Sessions minutes before midnight on Sunday, after passing or re-passing nearly all the ‘major’ bills. They did it with 4 minutes left to spare. It was remarkable how quickly they passed these items because only a day before, on Saturday, the major bills were either not yet passed or had already been vetoed by the Governor. The items important to townships remained in the bills passed by the Legislature, but we now wait for the Governor to act.

The Omnibus to End All Omnibus!?! The Supplemental Budget Omnibus bill (HF 4099 / SF 3656), at over 990 pages, nicknamed the mega-omnibus, omnibus-omnibus, and omnibus-prime – contains funding and policy changes for nearly all of MAT’s legislative priorities. The bill includes:

  • $4 million for the town road account, nearly $11 million for local bridge replacement;
  • $15 million for the Broadband Grant Program;
  • $200,000 for reimbursement to local governments for costs associated with increased maintenance due to the Border-to-Border Touring Route proposed in Northern Minnesota;
  • Amendments to the MS4 (Municipal Wastewater Treatment rules) permit process that would exempt non-urbanized portions of townships that otherwise must comply with those rules.

The bill passed the House and Senate this weekend and was sent to the Governor, who promptly suggested he would veto the bill. The Governor had listed 117 items he wanted changed or removed, none of which are township-related. The GOP leadership said they addressed over 70 of those items. The good news here is that the Legislature and Governor appear to agree on the appropriations and policy changes favorable to townships. The bad news is that threat of the veto remains over unrelated items in the bill.

Bonding … Capital Improvement Bonding: There is also township transportation funding proposed in the Bonding Bill (HF 1226). A revised bonding bill was released late Sunday, which includes:

  • $35 million in undesignated Local Road Improvement Fund Grants;
  • $5 million in the Local Bridge Replacement Program;
  • $6.7 million in the Local Government Roads Wetland Replacement Program (Wetland credits fund).

Special Session – Is it really ‘special’ if it has become normal? No matter the answer to that question, we don’t know if the Governor will call a special session.

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18 May
By: Cari Alleman 0

Legislative Session 2018 – Week 13

Procrastinators Unite – sometime this weekend. The Legislature must be done by 11:59 pm on Sunday May 20. Okay, so they’re not exactly procrastinators, but legislators do seem to wait until the last minute to get the big projects done. This year is no exception.

Transportation: The proposal to constitutionally dedicate auto part sales tax revenues appears to be dead in the water (or road, in this case). The House passed HF 4437 to pose the constitutional dedication of auto part sales on the November ballot, by 76-54. This bill proposes dedicating 3.25% of the auto part sales to Townships for our road and bridges, with funding phased in between 2021 and 2024. It’s a controversial bill because it removes money from the general fund, leaving less for distribution. MAT continues to emphasize the importance of transportation infrastructure as a key to maintaining townships and bringing industry into the rural areas. The Senate’s version, SF 3837, is in the Senate rules committee, appears unlikely to pass.

The most-welcome news this week was the proposed transportation funding increases offered in the House and Senate Conference Report on SF 3656. Both the House and Senate initially earmarked $2 million for the township road account, but the Conference Report increased that to $4 million and added about $10 million for local bridge replacements. We are excited to see the $12 million increase. This comes after the previous years with little to no township transportation and bridge funding. The final days will determine if Townships come out with more transportation funding this year than last year. We will strive to have more conversations in the future with legislatures to bring insight on the condition of Township Roads and the need for additional funding.

Broadband: The Broadband Grant Fund appropriation remains at $15 million, also found in the Omnibus Supplemental Budget bill, SF 3656. The conference committee removed the carve-out for satellite service providers. MAT favored removing the carve-out because the program has been technology neutral in the past, requiring all providers to compete regardless of their preferred technology. This bill remains in conference committee and is being negotiated with the Governor and his staff.

We continue to watch the bonding bill and elections bill, both of which carry legislation and appropriations important to us.

The Legislature is scheduled to end the season on Monday May 21, but they cannot pass legislation on the final day so their work must be completed by midnight Sunday … unless they go into a special session.

 

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11 May
By: Cari Alleman 0

2018 Session Update Week 12

10 days Left of the 2018 Session! We can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Transportation: The constitutional dedication of auto part sales, HF 4437, continued its journey through the House this week, with the House Tax Committee hearing the bill this week. This bill proposes dedicating 3.25% of the auto part sales to Townships for our road and bridges. This funding would be phased in between 2021 and 2024. Several interest groups have opposed the bill because it removes funding from the general fund. MAT continues to emphasize the importance of transportation infrastructure as a key to bringing industry into the rural areas. HF 4437 is scheduled for the House floor on next week. The Senate’s version, SF 3837, is in the Senate rules committee, with the Senate waiting for passage in the House before further Senate action. Next week will be an important one to if the bill is to move forward. If it passed both the House and Senate, you will see a question on the ballot come November.

Broadband: The proposed Broadband Grant Fund appropriation of $15 million is still on track. The governor suggested $30 million to the program knowing the need and desire to have the program help grow rural areas. The $15 million is included in both the House and Senate omnibus bills, with talk of it going up. As we move into the final week of session we will be pushing to increase the fund.

 

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04 May
By: Steve Fenske 0

Legislative Update Week 11

We are in the home stretch with only two full weeks left of the regular session. It looks like they may even adjourn on time, with the last date being May 21.

Non-taxable land purchases 30-day Notification: The Omnibus Legacy Bill (HF 4167) included wording that any entity, private or public, that will purchase land using funding from the State’s Outdoor Heritage Fund, must notify the townships affected at least 30 days before the closing date. This was controversial, as representatives of DNR and some lawmakers fought to remove the notice provision. They argued the notice provision harmed private parties’ land transactions, but the provision remained because the parties’ purchases are made using State money and often the land becomes non-taxable.

Transportation: The House Capital Investment committee released its bonding bill (HF 4404), which included several township-related items. The bonding bill provided $72 million to the Local Road Improvement Fund, but that funding is distributed by a grant system in which towns must compete with other local roads. The bill provided $5,000,000 in the Local Road Wetland Replacement fund, which offsets the costs of building and maintain roads in wetlands (wetland credits).

The House and Senate Transportation bills are continuing their way through the legislative process.

Broadband: The proposed Broadband Grant Fund appropriation of $15 million survived attack on the House floor this week. The proposed amendment (SF 3656 A16) would have stripped all of the broadband funding. The amendment was not adopted, showing continued bipartisan support for the program.

Environment: The Senate Environment Committee’s proposal to exempt the non-urbanized portions of metro areas townships from the municipal stormwater rules (MS4), was included in the Senate Omnibus Bill (SF 3141).

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27 Apr
By: Steve Fenske 0

2018 Session Update Week 10

Its all coming together … there has been a lot of activity at the capitol this week as omnibus bills have been assembled and are being debated. We’ve been examining the omnibus bills and contacting legislators about the items of concern.

Transportation: The hot item in transportation this week was the constitutional amendment proposing the dedication of sales tax from auto parts to transportation purposes (HF 4437). The House Transportation Finance Committee passed the bill out of committee and referred it the Ways and Means Committee. MAT expressed support for the bill during the hearing. The Senate Transportation Committee held heard the companion bill, SF3837, on March 26 and referred it to the Taxes committee. The issue is controversial because if the constitutional amendment passed, it would permanently move money that currently goes into the General Fund into transportation funding. Opponents of the bill argue it makes it limits funding that could otherwise be used for other purposes. In short, it leaves less money in the general fund that can be distributed to the many interests seeking funding.

Annexation: Following the disappointing result in Midway Township’s annexation case, the Senate Local Government Committee held an informational hearing on Senate File 4020, which is the newest version of the bill to protect Orderly Annexation agreements. MAT credits Senator Bruce Anderson for working with us on this issue. The hearing was successful in starting a conversation among the committee members about annexation law in general. Several members, including Senators Hall, Anderson, and Relph expressed interest in continuing discussions about possible annexation law reforms.

Sealed Bids: Good news! Towns may be able to avoid the demands of sealed bidding more often because the Governor signed Session Law Chapter 107 (HF 3841) into law on Thursday. The bill increases the threshold for sealed bidding to $175,000. All other parts of the Municipal Contracting Law remain the same.

Donations to Food Shelves: The Governor sign Session Law 105 on April 25, which amends Minnesota Statute 465.039 to allow town boards to donate money to a food shelf organization.

Bill Log – Updated to 4/26/18

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23 Apr
By: Steve Fenske 0

2018 Session Update Week 9

Here we go, straight, no chaser …

Transportation: The House and Senate Transportation Committees both passed their versions of supplemental transportation funding bills, HF 4160 and SF 3806. Both bills provide $2 million of supplemental funding to the Town Road Account. This is the same amount appropriated into the Town Road account last year.

Environment: The Legacy Funding Finance Committee heard HF 4167 on Monday 4/16, a bill that as drafted, requires DNR to provide notice 30 days before the date of closing of land acquisition, to counties. MAT worked with Representatives Torkelson and Fabian to offer an oral amendment to include townships in the 30-day notification requirement to the closing of the land acquisition.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes: Representative Layman and Senator Eichorn presented a new approach to the problem of non-taxable land this week. HF4412 and SF3987 would prohibit the appraised values of PILT property from dropping below the taxable value as of 2010. Currently, the PILT program holds the appraised property values at the same amount for about 5 years, but then the value is reassessed, and it often decreases, which decreases the amount of PILT paid on the property. The bill would require an additional appropriation to be effective.

Broadband: We were excited to see that both the House and Senate offered a supplemental $15 million to fund the State’s Border-to-Border Broadband program for 2019. (HF 3527 / SF 2787). The program was not funded for 2019, so this money is needed to keep the program moving forward. However, the House version of the bill was amended in committee to set-aside $750,000 of the funding for the use of satellite broadband providers. Our concern is that the program has never picked winners and losers among the different technologies. Of further concern is that the satellite providers do not have to meet the same speed goals as the other technologies and that they do not require any additional infrastructure development to deploy their technology. Instead, they must provide 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload, but unlike all other technologies, they are not required to eventually increase their speeds to 100 down/20 up. In other words, they appear to have less potential than other technologies but have money carved-out for them in the appropriation. There is considerable disagreement about the effectiveness of satellite services, so please share your experiences on these services if you have tried them.

Annexation: The Senate Local Government committee will hear our Orderly Annexation clarification bill in an informational hearing on Tuesday, April 24. After the disappointing Court of Appeals decision concerning Midway Township, Senator Bruce Anderson quickly offered a new draft of the bill that would address the ambiguities found by the Court of Appeals. The new bill, SF 4020, is nearly identical to SF 1749. The hearing offers a chance to explain why this issue is so important to townships. MAT thanks Senator Anderson for his work and support on this issue.

Elections: Secretary of State Steve Simon has been busy, as the State of Minnesota received money from the Federal Government to update our HAVA (Help America Vote Act) system and be proactive with cyber security as authorized by the Federal Government. The State of Minnesota is required to match the Federal funding with State funding. SOS Simon came before the State Government Finance & Policy & Elections committee to ask for $1.5 million (SF3764 amendment) to be used to update those programs. That has been included in the Elections Omnibus Bill.

Contracting Law: HF 3841 passed the House Floor on Monday April 16. This bill allows the threshold for sealed bids to go from 100,000 to 175,000. The Senate will approve it with the language from the House, it is now in the Senate.

 

 

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14 Apr
By: MAT Staff 0

2018 Session Update Week 8

And we’re back … We are sorry for the delay in our Weekly Updates. We expect to return to weekly updates now that our staff has returned from our Short Courses.

Annexation – We’ve seen two developments in Annexation matters in the last few weeks. First, the Senate Local Government Committee pulled the hearing scheduled for our Orderly Annexation clarification bill, Senate File 1749. The Committee Leadership declined to move forward with the bill based on their concern the House Local Government Committee would not have heard the bill at all. It is not clear if that is the case, but we were looking forward to presenting the case for the bill, offering testimony from Midway Township officers, and passing the bill out of the Committee and to the Senate Floor. We are discussing an informational hearing on the bill and other annexation issues later this session.

Second, the dispute between Midway Township and the City of Proctor took a negative turn this week. The Minnesota Court of Appeals released its decision in the case, deciding the orderly annexation agreement between Midway and Duluth did not prevent Proctor from annexing property subject to the contract. Unless this decision is appealed to the Supreme Court or the legislature fixes the law, these agreements can no longer be relied upon when more than one city borders a township.

Because of these two developments, MAT needs town officers to contact their legislators and advocate for a legislative change, such as that offered in Senate File 1749 and House File 1995. In good news, we hear more legislators express frustration or concern with the status quo in annexation law. The more they hear your stories of annexation, the more they understand the need for reforms.

Broadband – Broadband Day on the Hill 2018 was held on Thursday 4/12/18, with another successful showing of the support for Broadband. That day, the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee heard House File 3527, authored by Rep. Sandy Layman, which would provide funding to the State’s Broadband Grant Program for 2019. During our Spring Short Courses, we heard many members complaint that they know fiber optic cable is in the ground near their homes, but have not been able to access the infrastructure. Others expressed stories of frustration or success with wireless technologies. We need your stories to bring to legislators. Please write them down and send them to us and we can make sure they get into the right hands.

Transportation – There was a hearing on constitutionally dedicating the auto parts sales tax to transportation. This would be in addition to the transportation funds we already receive. The breakdown that the townships would receive is 3.25%. This passed out of the Senate committee at an 8-7 vote. We should be seeing this on the ballot this fall.

Not Net Gain/30 Year Plan – Our success in this issue has been in educating legislators and finding a surprising amount of support on the issue. We have found more support as legislators learn how much public land (non-taxable land) there is in some counties, that the remaining landowners are paying more each year to cover the losses, and that Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) has not resolved the problems. There has been no movement on our No Net Gain or 30 Year Plan bills in the House or Senate this year, but we hare expected to receive an informational hearing in the upcoming weeks.

Elections – There are a few bills MAT staff have been following on elections. The House heard File 4104 this week, which would extend the mail balloting ability to towns in the Twin Cities metro area. MAT supports HF 4104 because of the greater opportunity it offers to metro-area townships that are often the same or similar size as some non-metro towns that can use mail-in balloting. Metro towns have been placed at a disadvantage in this matter merely because of their proximity to Minneapolis and St. Paul. HF 4104 resolves that problem. We have been in close contact with Secretary of State Steve Simon’s office on some new funding opportunities that have given to the state to keep our elections safe from cyber attaches.

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08 Mar
By: Steve Fenske 0

2018 Session Update Week 3

Legislative committees are in full-swing this week, finishing updates from last year but also hearing bills. District 1 town officers joined us in St. Paul for their Lobby Day on Tuesday, with a great showing of legislators to meet them.

Broadband: Representative Sandy Layman, along with a bi-partisan group of 28 co-sponsors, introduced a bill to provide $51,480,000 to the State’s Boarder-to-Border Grant Program. This amount follows the recommendations of the Governor’s Broadband Taskforce. It represents a serious attempt to provide new broadband infrastructure to rural Minnesota. The bill contains no policy changes to maintain good momentum in the Broadband grant program. We are expecting an identical bill in the Senate next week.

Transportation: In a good sign, we continue to hear talk about money in the bonding bill for local roads. The District 1 officers asked legislators why a gas tax increase couldn’t get done. The response from GOP members has been that they believe there is something else that will work better. The problem is that we rarely hear an idea of what “something else” is. There is continued talk of making the auto parts dedication permanent, but we would like to hear the other proposals to serve town needs. We also continue to hear about the problem electric vehicles will pose to the transportation funding structure, but last year the legislature began addressing the problem with a tab surcharge to makeup for the gas tax money lost to electric vehicles.

Annexation: MAT expects a hearing on our Orderly Annexation clarification bill, SF 1749, in the coming weeks. Legislators have understood our message that towns and cities need to be able to rely on annexation agreements, or they are not worth anything and we will see more contested annexation cases.

No Net Gain / 30-Year Plan: Cari continues to take meetings on these topics, and found the most opposition in the Senate, where a small number of Senators appears to oppose any limitation that could limit the growth or public hunting land. We need the help of members on this issue. In particular, we need Senators to hear your stories of public land acquisition, the problems you are having with the PILT program, and your support of either of these bills. No Net Gain bills are House File 143 and Senate File 372. The 30 Year Plan bills are HF 586 and SF 1005.

Elections: Cari attended a hearing on election equipment, hearing from Secretary of State Steve Simon on the distribution of grant funds. Secretary Simon pointed out that, as most of us know the state was founded in 1858, and that is exactly the funding amount ($1,858) that went out to each prescient in the state. Cari addressed the committee on behalf of MAT and as a Head Election Judge for Harris Township. She received great feedback from the committee members, and built on the valuable partnership we have with the Secretary of State and his office.

On a final note, Senator Andrew Mathews and Representative Sondra Erickson moved out of committee a bill authorizing town boards to contribute town funds to food shelves. The bill would place towns in the same position as cities and counties regarding this power. It is not a controversial bill and is expected to pass easily.

2018 Bill Log

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02 Mar
By: Steve Fenske 0

2018 Session Update Week 2

Legislative Session 2018 – Week 2

The 2018 Session began February 20, with the House and Senate focusing on tax conformity (matching Minnesota state taxes to the federal system), securing funding for the legislature, and sexual harassment training. Committee hearings started but were mostly reviews and updates of events since the close of the 2017 session. The biggest news since then has been the new budget projection, showing a $329 million surplus – a very healthy Minnesota economy. Legislators are already talking about supplemental budgets if the tax conformity bill doesn’t eat up the surplus. This a ‘short’ session, meaning the legislature has about a month less to work. They are less interested in hearing controversial matters because they don’t have as much committee time available. This limits our expectations for the session.

Although the legislative session began last week, MAT’s government relations team has been busy for months. Our newest member, Cari Ann Alleman, has been arranging and taking meetings with legislators in their home districts, which has offered us much more time and attention than we are able to get in St. Paul. MAT has already seen success in contacts with legislators. Our Legislative and Research (L&R) meeting was held February 20 and 21. Over those two days, L&R members met with over 50 legislators, up from 18 last year. MAT members and District Directors have also held three District/County lobby days at the capitol. Its been a great showing of town officers.

MAT’s Legislative Priorities are based on work started last year, and updates on some issues are below.

Transportation: We heard from House Capital Investment Chair Dean Urdahl yesterday that he expects funding for local roads and bridges to be included in the bonding bill. This is great news for towns because last year’s transportation bill largely left out towns. We’ve also had discussion and good feedback regarding more dedicated town road funding or grant programs that will be available for local road and bridge repairs.

Broadband: A new Senate broadband bill, SF 2787, was introduced this week to appropriate $51,480,000, from the General Fund to the State’s Border-to-Border Broadband program. A companion bill is expected from the House soon. While there is good support for broadband, there continues to be disagreement about the reliability of wireless interest solutions in rural areas. Your legislators need to hear about your experiences with wireless because right now, they are hearing that wireless can completely solve the broadband issue in rural Minnesota. We have heard differently, but legislators need your voice.

No Net Gain / 30-Year Plan: What we thought was going to be a more controversial issue has turned more positive than we expected. Legislators throughout the state are concerned with the loss of tax base to local governments, the loss of productive land, and the increasing amount of State-owned land. The opposition to the bill has come from outdoor sporting groups that want more public land for hunting. To be clear, MAT does not oppose more land available for recreation, but it cannot come at the expense of the town residents whose taxes increase whenever land becomes non-taxable. While No Net Gain would stop the bleeding, the 30-Year Plan would allow more recreation land while keeping the town whole.

As always, we need your help. Please contact your legislators about the issues that matter to you and your town. Your voice goes much farther than ours can.

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