Compromise fails to develop for comprehensive transportation bill
In 2015, the Senate DFL passed a comprehensive, long-term transportation funding bill that would meet the needs of Minnesota’s transportation network. It would raise significant new revenue that would be dedicated for our roads and bridges, and include new funding for our transit network in the metro and Greater Minnesota.
Unlike the Senate, the House plan would have used a combination of shifts in the general fund, taking money away from other priorities like early education, tuition relief, and helping our most vulnerable citizens. Furthermore, the House included little investment in the growing needs for transit across the state.
In an effort to find a compromise to provide the comprehensive funding for our transportation network, the Conference Committee on transportation remained open over the summer and throughout the 2016 Session. With both the Senate and House in agreement on the needs, the Conference Committee met several times and exchanged various offers to work towards a compromise.
While the Senate proposals included various concessions, the House refused to change their position and doubled down on poison pill policies. Due to the wide gulf between the two positions, a final compromise bill was unable to move forward in 2016. (H.F. 4)
REAL ID moves closer to implementation
This is the second bill related to REAL ID the Legislature heard this session. The first repealed the prohibition on planning, and required DPS to report to the Legislature about the next steps for implementing the law. The department reported back with the next steps Minnesota needs to complete for compliance. This second bill allows the department to make technical changes to bring Minnesota’s statutes and licenses into compliance with federal REAL ID standards.
One of the main features of the Senate bill allows for a noncompliant license, which would allow those who are concerned about the data collected and those who have no plans for air travel to have a state-issued driver’s license or ID that is not REAL ID compliant.
In addition to the issues of federal compliance, the bill includes a provision allowing the commissioner to add lifetime game and fish information to the back of the new Minnesota driver’s license or ID, in writing or as a graphic. (S.F. 3589)
Transparency at MnDOT
A joint hearing between the House and Senate Transportation Committees met to discuss MnDOT’s Highway Project Selection practices. Many legislators and community advocates had questions about how projects are given priority, a process that can seem opaque or difficult to understand.
The report found that the process was not transparent, specifically citing the Corridors of Commerce program and the seemingly subjective selections made for it. The report recommended fixing the selection process for Corridors of Commerce and increasing transparency for the overall process.
In response, legislation was introduced instructing MnDOT, in consultation with relevant agency stakeholders, to develop, adopt, and implement best practices for project evaluation and selection processes. This process must apply to standard project selection and special programs like Corridors of Commerce. The Commissioner must publicize the best practices. The bill then outlines specific best practices the department must include. (S.F. 3211)
A bill was heard to lay out new regulations regarding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The bill defines drones in statute, and adds three misdemeanor violations for drone use in the aeronautics chapter of law. These violations include launching or recovering a drone from private property without consent, using a drone with the intent of damaging/disrupting/interfering with aircraft in motion on the ground or in the air, or knowingly operating a drone within a mile of a helicopter operated by law enforcement, a fire department, or an emergency medical service provider. The penalty increases to a gross misdemeanor if violated a subsequent time.
Drones up to 55 lbs. may be subject to fees under the new statute, but would be exempt from other aircraft fees and taxes. Additionally, drones must be registered for an annual fee of $25 if used for other than hobby purposes. The operator of the drone must also provide proof of insurance, along with other requirements, and the Commissioner is required to develop and administer a written knowledge test. There is also a list of various eligibility requirements to operate a drone commercially. In order to use a drone, the operator must pass the knowledge test and meet the specified requirement. Anyone who operates the drone in violation of this section would be guilty of a misdemeanor. (S.F. 3312)
Autonomous vehicles task force established for people with disabilities
This defines what an autonomous vehicle is in statute. The bill narrows the definition to vehicles with the technology to drive itself without active human control or monitoring.
This article then sets up an autonomous vehicle task force. The task force is meant to analyze results and report to the legislature about issues related to the use of autonomous vehicles by people with disabilities on public roadways. The bill lays out membership guidelines, mandates the first meeting be convened by Oct. 15, 2016, and authorizes the task force to solicit gifts/grants/donations for the purposes of carrying out its mission. The task force is to report its findings and recommendations to the Transportation committees regarding various topics including: recommended legislation, administrative rules, costs and benefits, legal implications, and more. The report must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2018, and the task force is to sunset by June 30, 2019. (S.F. 2569)
Military personnel to be given flexibility on road tests
When an individual fails a skills or road driver’s license test in Minnesota, there is a mandatory “practice period” before the individual may retake the test. This bill would allow active duty military personnel to retake the test without this waiting period.
Many active duty military personnel receive little time or warning before they must be on duty in another state or country. This can hinder their ability to take and pass a skills or road driver’s license test if they are unable to pass on their first attempt.
In order to retake the test, the individual must present documentation proving they are active duty military personnel. These credentials may include an affidavit where the individual attests to their active military status outside the state, which must be current or scheduled to begin before the practice period ends. The commissioner may also deem other documentation acceptable. (S.F. 2542)
Oil Train Safety Regulations
As concerns increase about the possibility of spills of hazardous materials and oil being carried on Minnesota’s train tracks, efforts were made this year to help emergency responders prepare for these emergencies. Through a combined effort between emergency responders, local governments, and the railroads themselves, legislation was heard to provide the instruction needed to effectively respond to any potential emergency. This was addressed in several ways.
First, railroads would offer training for emergency management to each local organization where oil and hazardous substances are being transported and emergency managers are required to assist in identifying and assessing local threats in areas that have a high population or where there are key facilities. They would also have to perform annual table top environmental response drills and one full-scale exercise every three years. They would also need to report on their capacity and the methods they will utilize to meet the statutory response criteria.
A financial responsibility report requires railroads to demonstrate that the railroad has the financial ability to pay environmental cleanup costs. The bill then lists various evidence that can be used as proof. There are also cancellation requirements listed in the section.
The second section of the bill changes the Rail Safety Inspection Program. It allows MnDOT to hire up to nine safety inspectors and adds train equipment as an element to inspect. These positions and the state inspection program will be paid for by a proportional assessment based on track miles on rail carriers in the state. It also requires the commissioner of MnDOT to provide information from the inspection program on its Web site, and lists minimum requirements.
The third section adds incident emergency response and preparedness information. The section lists requirements that rail carriers provide emergency response capability information to emergency managers and fire chiefs with jurisdiction over where oil and hazardous substances are being transported. These notifications must include information about geographic inventories of emergency response supplies. The bill also requires rail carriers to provide their federally required route planning risk assessments, their hazardous materials response plans, and their bridge inspections reports to emergency managers, fire chiefs, and other specified parties.
Rail carriers would need to maintain a software program to present real-time information regarding the transportation of hazardous materials and oil, specifies minimum requirements for the software, requires data sharing with listed parties without abridgement, and requires community notification of oil and hazardous materials passing through their community (this must be done via a Web site).
Finally, the bill makes changes to the railroad and pipeline incident preparedness account, increasing it to $250,000. The section adds life-safety emergency response exercises and public education and outreach to the permissible uses of the funds in this account. (S.F. 3352)