Farm Bureau members meet with legislators

Rep. Greg Davids shows how people voted in a recent committee hearing to members of Farm Bureau meeting with him during Day on the Hill.

ST. PAUL — Some Minnesota legislators are pushing to turn back biodiesel legislation that was passed in 2008.

Farm Bureau members in St. Paul for their Day on the Hill on March 18 lobbied for the legislation to move forward.

Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, said the Senate Commerce Committee on March 17 turned back two bills that sought to undo the state's current biodiesel law, which calls for biodiesel blends of 5 percent during winter and a scheduled increase to 10 percent for summer months once certain criteria are met.

The bill could be brought back before committee, but that would need to be done before March 21, the first committee deadline.

Ultimately, it would have to come through the Senate agriculture committee, said Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, and it won't get through.


The House agriculture policy committee isn't hearing the bill, said chairwoman Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin.

All bills introduced during the 2013-14 session goes away when the session concludes this spring, Jensen said.


Typically, the main work of the second year of the legislative session is passing a capital investment or bonding bill, but it was only discussed during a couple visits.

Schmidt described the bill as an economic shot in the arm. He favors a bill targeted toward infrastructure: Roads, bridges, sewer, water and broadband. State guidelines allow for a $1.3-billion to $1.4-billion bonding bill, but he told Farm Bureau members the bill likely would come in at about $850 million to $950 million.

Some discussion occurred about a proposed Senate office building. Schmidt said he's received his eviction notice and come June 1 he must vacate his Capitol office to make room for ongoing renovations. He doesn't know where his office will be located then.

Poppe said with the Capitol renovation legislators need to look to the future of the Capitol complex to determine the best outcome.

In a Forum News Service article, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the Senate will lose 38,000 square feet to the renovation. It will double the space that the governor's office occupies and there won't be enough room for senators and their staff in the building, he said.


Poppe said senators from the minority party have offices in the State Office Building, along with all the representatives. Senators in the majority party have offices in the Capitol. It's really convenient, she said, for representatives to meet with one another since they are in the same building. Legislators must be forward-thinking on this issue, she said, taking into consideration such things as a change in the size of the Legislature.

There are reasons why the building has been proposed, she said.

The debate will be ongoing, Sparks added.

Other issues:

• Limiting liability for agri-tourism. Farm Bureau testified in support of HF1829, which provides liability protection for agriculturally related activities associated with education or promotion. Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, is the chief author.

Sparks indicated support for the legislation because agriculture is a huge part of the economy and getting people out on farms is key to education.

• Minimum wage. Davids said raising the minimum wage in Minnesota would make the state non-competitive with neighboring states that don't raise the minimum wage. The issue should be addressed at the federal level, he said.

• MNSure. Davids said people aren't aware that they won't be able to purchase health insurance after the open enrollment period closes on March 31. People in southeast Minnesota have effectively one plan to choose from and it costs two to three times more than plans in other parts of the state. It's highly problematic, he said.


• A bill, HF2315, allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp has passed the House agriculture policy committee chaired by Poppe. Industrial hemp could be a cover crop or a third crop, she said. Its cultivation is allowed in the new federal farm bill.

The bill's chief author is Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. Kahn has long been a champion of the industrial hemp industry.

"I think the recent action at the federal level should help persuade anyone who might be on the fence," said Kahn in a press release. "This is an economic opportunity we should take advantage of," she added, alluding to the plant's many commercial uses such as for clothing, paper, cosmetics and building materials.

According to the Hemp Industries Association, the sale of hemp products in the U.S. reached an estimated $500 million last year, but all hemp used was imported from foreign markets. Kahn says cultivating the plant in a tightly regulated market here in Minnesota means that the state could benefit from additional tax revenue and job creation resulting from the new industry.

The proposal allows the agriculture commissioner to administer a pilot program authorizing higher education institutions to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.

Ten states have already passed legislation legalizing hemp, including Colorado, Washington, California, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia.

Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, has a companion bill in the Senate, SF2266.


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