2020 Legislative Session Adjourns as Lawmakers Prepare for June 12 Special Session
The 2020 legislative session came to an end this past weekend, with both the Senate and House adjourning “sine die” just before midnight on Sunday. The typical end-of-session negotiations between the Governor and legislative leadership was like no other due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional face-to-face meetings to hammer out details on big-ticket pieces of legislation did not come to fruition, while legislative business was conducted virtually and with strict social distancing guidelines observed by the members who were actually present in the Capitol for floor debates.
Two pieces of legislation that many had high hopes for passage this session were the Capital Investment Bonding bill and the Omnibus Tax bill. Many Capitol prognosticators linked the fate of these two bills as the DFL supported a very robust bonding package, while the GOP’s top priority was to return state budget surplus dollars back to Minnesotans in the form of tax relief. However, due to the effects of COVID-19 on the state economy, coupled with a suite of emergency funding relief bills, a $1.5 billion surplus has now turned into a $2.4 billion deficit in the matter of a few months. With the 2020 campaign trail looming for all 201 members of the legislature, many of these lawmakers would still like to see these two major pieces of legislation passed into law.
In addition, lawmakers must still determine state oversight as it relates to the funding received from the federal CARES Act as well as the future of Gov. Walz’s emergency powers which are set to expire next month. With all these dynamics still in play, Gov. Walz and legislative leaders announced yesterday that a special session has been set for June 12 to address these outstanding issues, as well as any others that may crop up between now and then.
Omnibus Agriculture Policy Bill Signed into Law
Gov. Tim Walz signed the Omnibus Agriculture Policy bill into law over the weekend. Authored by Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL – Austin) and Sen. Bill Weber (R – Luverne), H.F. 4285 includes initiatives requested by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, along with provisions from a host of other bills heard by the respective Senate and House Agriculture Committees this session. Among the items included were modifications to state seed and noxious weed laws, laws governing perishable farm product buyers, state loan programs, eggs, meat and poultry inspections, farm safety, grain buyers, emerging farmers, industrial hemp, agricultural education, pet food and several technical changes to the composition of Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council.
Omnibus Agriculture Finance Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature
The Omnibus Agriculture Finance bill was passed by both the Senate and House over the final weekend of the legislative session. Authored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R – Elbow Lake) and Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL –Austin), H.F. 4490 includes several appropriations for areas of critical need to the agriculture and food worlds. Among the items are $675,000 to the University of Minnesota to purchase testing equipment for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, including equipment and supplies needed to respond to incidents of African swine fever. In addition, $150,000 is included for assistance to farmers and value-added agricultural businesses whose markets and operations were negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also includes $100,000 for farm safety grants and outreach programs, an additional $50,000 for community outreach on farms and rural mental health services, and suicide prevention training. It is anticipated that Gov. Walz will sign this bill, as well as a host of others passed during the final week of the session, in the upcoming week.
Broadband Funding Bill Stalls Out, Awaits Fate in Upcoming Special Session
Lawmakers were not able to finalize a deal to appropriate additional funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program that is administered by the Department of Employment & Economic Development. While the Senate and House passed different versions of legislation aimed at bolstering the program with additional funding, they were unable to come to an agreement before the final gavel dropped on the 2020 session. It is anticipated that this issue will be revisited in the upcoming Special Session next month. As a member of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, AgriGrowth attended Broadband Day at the Capitol earlier this session and continues to play a role by informing lawmakers that investment in broadband infrastructure is even more critical now for safety, education, jobs and commerce in today's COVID-19 economy.
Gov. Walz Lifts “Stay Home” Order, Extends Peacetime Emergency until June 12
Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced he would lift his “Stay Home” Executive Order for individuals and certain businesses, while also extending the peacetime emergency declaration until June 12. In place of the “Stay Home” order, a new “Stay Safe Minnesota” order was put in place that asks people to stay close to home, limit travel to essential, while allowing gatherings of friends and family in groups of 10 or less. Many entities have been allowed to re-open, however restaurants, churches, salons, and gyms were among those that have to remain shuttered until June 1 while the Walz Administration develops guidelines for safe operation.
The Latest Ag News from Washington, D.C.
AgriGrowth began 2020 with a strong list of federal legislative priorities developed by and with member input. Like everyone in agri-food, we’ve adjusted and flexed our advocacy efforts and “asks” to meet our industry’s changing environment. We are grateful for ongoing member input into that process! Since our last Member Bulletin, in order to adjust to the evolving situation and new shocks to the agri-food system, AgriGrowth worked with MN ag associations and sought input from other members to develop an updated list of immediate federal priorities. As a result of that process, AgriGrowth sent a letter emphasizing five action areas to assist producers and the agri-food chain with food processing system challenges.
We also continued to follow the latest stimulus packages being developed in Washington, D.C.: CARES-2 and the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. Analysis from the America Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) lays out the implications of the HEROES Act for agriculture and links to previous analyses of earlier stimulus efforts.
Even as we adjusted near-term priorities, AgriGrowth maintained our efforts on other long-standing AgriGrowth priorities like infrastructure and ag technology. Last week, AgriGrowth was proud to sign on to REBUILD Rural’s letter on including America’s rural infrastructure needs in stimulus package discussions
And, we were pleased with the release of USDA’s final rule on biotech crop approvals. We believe this final rule will allow for continued agricultural innovation necessary to keep our industry globally competitive and to help us meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change, sustainability, and resiliency in challenging times (including future pandemics). You can read a Morning Ag Take story with more here and a statement from the American Soybean Association here.