Republican agreement for Jobs, Commerce, and Energy Conference Committee released

As Governor Dayton requested, the conference committees began attempting to find a unified position on the budget bills so negotiations could begin with the administration. An agreement was reached between the House and Senate Republican chairs for the Jobs and Energy Conference Committee on Monday. There was no discussion on the proposal or public testimony; instead nonpartisan staff went through the spreadsheet and bill language. Testimony, amendments, and legislators’ discussion were put off for another day. Once all of the budget bills are negotiated between the House and Senate, Governor Dayton and his administration will start actively negotiating bills with the legislature.

Below are a few notable provisions that were agreed to by the House and Senate conferees.

Jobs, Labor, and Housing Provisions

  • Consumer internet privacy language deleted – In the first hundred days of President Trump’s presidency he eliminated rules that would have prohibited internet service providers from collecting and selling their customers’ browsing history and personal information.

In response to actions at the federal level, DFL members of the Minnesota Senate and House authored an amendment that would have protected users’ data. Despite it passing the Senate with only one no vote, the provision was mysteriously removed from the bill in private meetings held by Republicans.

  • Border to Border broadband – $15 million – The Republican-led legislative agreement was $5 million less than the Senate position and $8 million more than the House position. Governor Dayton had appropriated $60 million in his budget for this grant program.
  • Building Code Policy Changes – Building code changes above $1,000 must be approved by the legislature. If a single committee in the House or Senate objects to the code change it will be rejected. This proposal originated from the Builders Association in response to rules regarding sprinklers in buildings. While the sprinkler rule was overturned by the courts, the construction industry is likely concerned about forthcoming rules that could increase building costs. This language is very problematic to the Department of Labor and Industry.

Energy and Telecommunications

  • VoIP – Local phone service is deregulated if it is provided by Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) or Internet protocol-enabled services. The move is supported by AT&T, Comcast, and other cable companies, but opponents argue strenuously that these provisions will lead companies to invest in densely populated urban areas at the expense of rural, less profitable areas, and will remove consumer protections – especially for older Minnesotans, people with disabilities, those on fixed incomes, and rural Minnesotans.
  • RDF – The Renewable Development Fund is eliminated and replaced by a new Clean Energy Advancement Fund (C-LEAF). Under this bill, spending decisions from the new fund are to be made by the legislature based on recommendations from a new legislative council, without independent oversight by the Public Utilities Commission. The Renewable Development Fund was created over two decades ago to fund innovative energy programs and is financed by Xcel Energy based on the mount of nuclear waste the company stores on-site at its nuclear plants in Prairie Island and Monticello.
  • Net metering – Cooperative electric associations are authorized to adopt rules to resolve disputes that include mediation by an independent third party. Proceedings pending at the Public Utilities Commission are terminated, with exceptions. Critics say this removes protections for families, businesses, and farmers served by these cooperatives who will have their ability to get an independent expert review from the Public Utilities Commission.

Commerce

  • Auto theft prevention account redirected to the insurance fraud prevention account

Of the revenue currently collected in the auto theft account, $1.3 million each year must be transferred to the general fund. The bill redirects the $1.3 million from the general fund and instead transfers the funds to the insurance fraud prevention account. The transfer to the general fund was a Pawlenty-era budget transfer, and there have been several attempts in recent years to return the funds to the insurance fraud prevention account.

  • Merchant bags – prohibits local governments from adopting ordinances that would prohibit merchants from providing customers paper, plastic, or reusable bags.
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