Original Senate target: $150 million (to pay for 6th year of reinsurance)
Global target: $16 million
The conference committee on the omnibus Energy and Commerce bill met six times during regular session and adopted a handful of provisions, including:
- Extending the cold weather rule protections by expanding the window by an additional two weeks in the spring and an additional two weeks in the fall, so the period of protections runs from October 1 to April 30
- Establishing the Minnesota Efficient Technology Accelerator to accelerate the deployment of increasingly efficient technologies through various initiatives
- Establishing the State Conservation Revolving Loan Fund for energy efficiency upgrades to state-owned buildings
- Providing funding for various projects in the state, including a solar production project in Mountain Iron, MN and a clean energy training center in North Minneapolis
- The Natural Gas Innovation Act, with amendments and improvements to the original proposal using stakeholder input
Before special session begins, the conferees will act within a working group to resolve any outstanding finance and policy differences.
Major outstanding items in the Commerce area:
E pull-tab design clarification
The omnibus commerce/energy bill contains language from HF 2366, which clarifies the features that can be used in electronic pull-tabs and electronic bingo charitable gambling games. The Senate bill was referred to State Government but never heard.
Specifically, the House language clarifies that instead of pressing buttons, players must swipe left or right, and the results must be displayed like a paper pull tab or a bingo card so as not to mimic the gameplay of video slot machines. Supporters say keeping the features closer to paper pull-tabs better matches the original agreement made by the lawmakers and the tribal community when the stadium legislation was signed in 2012. Opponents include charitable gaming organizations, bars and restaurants that have benefited from the increased e-pull-tab revenue in recent years.
Minnesota is one of 14 states that do not have some type of anti-price gouging law on its books. One of the first Executive Orders Gov. Walz imposed after the pandemic began prohibits anyone from selling consumer goods or services for an amount that represents an unconscionably excessive price during the pandemic (Executive Order 20-10). Once the emergency expires, this temporary executive order also will be nullified.
The omnibus commerce/energy bill includes language that would permanently etch these restrictions into Minnesota law. Senate Republicans refused to hear the bill (SF 965), even though this item was included in Gov. Walz’s letter to the Legislature outlining steps toward ending the peacetime emergency. The House also passed the stand-alone bill during regular session in addition to including it in this omnibus bill.
Catalytic converter theft
Two bills under the Commerce Committee’s purview would address the dramatic rise in catalytic converter thefts occurring across the state, but neither have received a hearing in the Senate (SF 890, SF 206). Senate Republicans also rejected an amendment to the omnibus bill to include the language of SF 890. The House’s omnibus bill appropriates $200,000 from the auto theft prevention account for a catalytic converter theft prevention pilot project.
The Senate passed SF 694 in February, which proposed using remaining funds in the Minnesota Premium Security Account to pay for an additional, fifth year of reinsurance through plan year 2022 – a move that also would require a new federal waiver. In their omnibus commerce and energy bill, Senate Republicans added $150 million to pay for an additional year extension through plan year 2023, with the option of extending through 2026. The House bill did not contain any reinsurance language.
Major outstanding items in the Energy area:
Solar for schools
The Senate passed $8 million in Renewable Development Account (RDA) spending to create a grant program to encourage and reduce the cost of installing solar energy systems in school districts throughout the state. The House bill appropriates additional funding, so the final bill will arrive at a compromise between the two positions.
Relief for Minnesotans, municipal utilities after 2021 Polar Vortex
Though not included in either chamber’s omnibus bill, relief is still needed for Minnesotans impacted by the polar vortex that impacted the entire state in February 2021. Estimated by agencies and utilities to require a nearly $100 million investment to provide assistance when the bills come due later this year. The Senate passed emergency funding in the form of a loan account (SF 1018) for municipal utilities that faced bills due much sooner, but the funding has not been sent to the governor’s desk.
The House bill included many different provisions pertaining to electric vehicles that were not included in the Senate’s bill but are considered a priority for DFLers in the Senate and in the House. Among the provisions included in the House bill are proposed rebates for Minnesota residents and businesses and a provision that would create a state preference for electric vehicles within the Department of Administration when the state purchases vehicles for its fleet.
Clean Energy First
Another provision that was included in the House bill but not in the Senate, Clean Energy First would create a preference for renewable energy and carbon-free resources. Though unlikely to pass this session, it is considered a top priority for Senate DFLers.