Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Environment, Energy & Commerce Bill; Agriculture & Vets Bill; and Public Safety Bill on April 17-18, 2007

What a day! We met on the House floor to vote on four bills starting at about 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday and we finished at 5:20 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Our floor actions included passing a bill to abolish the Department of Employee Relations (HF1048); passing the Agriculture, Rural Economies, and Veterans Affairs omnibus finance bill (HF2227); passing the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources and Commerce omnibus finance bill (SF2096-3rd unofficial engrossment), and the Public Safety omnibus finance bill (HF829).

The first bill (HF1048) passed quickly. The agriculture and vets bill passed 131-2 (I voted for it) after seven amendments were introduced. One amendment was a perennial idea by Rep. Urdahl to make companies immune from civil liability for obesity lawsuits--the cheeseburger bill! Rep. Urdahl gave an enjoyable and passionate speech on the issue before the amendment was deemed non-germane to the bill. It was considered later in the public safety bill.

The energy and environment bill took a good ten hours at least, maybe 12. We spent about 90 minutes talking about an amendment related to fish farms and bait and their negative effect on duck habitat. Wild rice legislation also took up quite a bit of time. Several amendments proposed taking money from Metro Parks and put it somewhere else. Rep. Bev Scalze, Rev. Kate Knuth, and I have advocated heavily for an additional $1.5 million annually for Metro Parks in the Environmental Finance Committee. After 47 amendments, the bill passed 95 to 38 and I voted for it.

One of the issues that might be of interest was the amendment on de minimus requirements on wetlands. Rep. Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) wanted to reduce the amount of wetland that can be used for development before you have to replace it somewhere else. In committee I voted to retain these requirements but after discussing the minutiae of the bill with representatives of Anoka County, it appears that this might actually be a very high-cost and low-result way of preserving and enhancing wetlands. I voted with the amendment to delete these new restrictions for now but the amendment was not adopted by a vote of 50-84.

The environment bills, as in committee, often show splits along geographic lines and not always partisan lines. Rural members--especially Northern MN members--tend to focus on use of the land, hunting, fishing, etc. Urban and some suburban members tend to focus on energy, toxicity issues, parks, and trails.

After midnight, we tacked the public safety bill. There were 21 amendments, including two attempting to change elements of my scrap metal dealer regulation package, including the penalty for non-compliance (amendment failed) and the requirement for video or still photo cameras for scrap metal recyclers (amendment failed). I defended against these amendments on the floor in my first floor debate for about ten minutes. At about 5:20 a.m., we voted on the bill 96-34, and I voted for it.

This was my first all-nighter at the Capitol. As the debates go on and on, people try to find places to rest for even a few minutes. In the retiring room behind the speaker's desk, members get a few minutes to eat dinner or stretch out or lean back on the couches and chairs. It reminded me a lot of a few bus and train station waiting rooms I've been in! At times like this members from both parties strike up friendly conversations, which helps to build better working relationships. On the floor, however, sometimes the elbows fly in the debate, often between people from the same party, on the issues. When it's late, people get a little punchy and irritable. But we got through it and at dawn I drove home for a few hours of sleep. My wife was sweet enough to adjust her schedule to get the kids off to school, which is usually my job, and I was out like a light!