Transportation Bills that Did Not Pass

Transportation Omnibus Finance Bill

The Governor and the Senate have a shared vision to provide sustainable dedicated transportation funding for a comprehensive plan, but the House was adamantly opposed to any revenue increases to pay for it. Minnesotans expect and deserve a 21st century transportation network. The House Republican transportation plan relied on taking resources away from educating our kids, our most vulnerable citizens, and other shared priorities. Transportation projects require long-term, dedicated funding and the House plan did not offer that–unfortunately that meant we were unable to get the plan our transportation system requires.

The Senate’s Transportation Omnibus Finance Bill raises new, sustained, and dedicated funding to invest in Minnesota’s transportation network. The bill is a comprehensive and honest funding plan that dedicates new funding without shifts or gimmicks to maintain our existing network, invest in priority projects, and expand transit options to make our communities more livable for everyone. Additionally, the bill funds much needed safety improvements and upgrades to the state’s rail network as increased demand and pressure has sharply increased freight rail volume.

Some highlights of the Finance Bill:

  • Gross Receipts Tax of 6.5% at the wholesale level constitutionally dedicated to the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund – raising approximately $787 million over the biennium.
  • Vehicle Registration Tax increase to 1.5% while increasing the base tax to $20 in 2018 while adding a late fee to $25 a month capped at $100 – raising approximately $195 million over the biennium.
  • Metro Transit Sales Tax increase from ¼ cent to 1 cent sales tax in 5 metro counties – raising approximately $599 million over the biennium.
  • Additional fees raising approximately $128 million over the biennium.
  • This increased funding will allow the state to take on more bonding capacity, allowing an additional $800 million for the Corridors of Commerce program over the next four years, while allowing increased Trunk Highway Bonding.
  • An additional $200 million for Transportation and Economic Development (TED) bonding.
  • The bill invests $32.5 million annually to make safety upgrades and improvements to the state’s existing rail network where crude oil and other hazardous materials are transported and creates an Office of Rail Safety at MnDOT.
  • “Driver’s License for All” allowing undocumented individuals to obtain a Minnesota driving license.

The bill addresses long-term transportation funding without taking money from other priorities, and will help the state create a 21st century transportation network that supports the growing demands of our aging transportation network.

STATUS: The Conference Committee on H.F. 4, the Transportation Omnibus Finance bill, remains open. It could be taken up in the next legislative session. (H.F. 4)

Improving Minnesota’s Railroads

Minnesota’s railroads are seeing an unprecedented burst in usage and pressure as North Dakota’s oil boom continues. Many of Minnesota’s rail lines are at capacity, and with the freight lines also seeing increased use thanks to agriculture and other commodities, there have been calls for action at the legislature to relieve this burden. Multiple oil train derailments and other hazardous spills have occurred across the country, including one in early May, creating more urgency for legislative actions.

Last year, the Legislature passed measures to help communities respond to potential emergencies related to transporting oil and other hazardous materials through Minnesota. Concerns around congestion were also brought up last fall in a joint hearing of the Senate Transportation, Commerce, and Jobs committees, and the House committee counterparts. Many believe increased oil freight traffic on the rails is leading to unintended effects on many industries throughout the state. Minnesota’s agriculture industry is seeing higher shipping costs in part because of increased oil rail traffic. The Department of Agriculture estimated that $100 million in revenue was lost by Minnesota corn, soybean, and wheat growers last spring alone. Also, passenger rail like Amtrak and the North Star Line are experiencing significant service delays and accompanying ridership reductions.

Bills to Support Improved Railroad Safety

Increasing Crews for Freight Rail Transport

Many of the freight rail trains that are traveling across the state are currently operated by crews of only one person. As the volume of freight increases on the state’s rails, these crews are responsible for the safe transport of not only commodities, but often hazardous materials, including oil. Some are concerned that one person may not be enough to ensure safe passage for these trains, and by adding a requirement for two-person crews, a second level of safety is added to ensure safe passage.

This legislation is similar to legislation that was passed in Wisconsin that requires two person crews, and the Federal Rail Authority announced it was intending to require two person crews for freight rail carrying crude oil. Legislation of this sort has been introduced in 14 other states concerned with rail safety, and has been passed in Arizona and Wisconsin.  With a second crew member on each train, proponents believe this measure provides one more level of safety and one more level of oversight for these trains. (S.F. 918)

Crystal and Hennepin County Railroad Legislation

Several bills heard this session surround a railroad project in Crystal, Minnesota that could have broad implications around the state. The project is a connector track at an intersection between BNSF and Canadian Pacific (CP) railroad lines. The trains do not currently connect the two tracks allowing trains running east-west (CP track) to turn south (BNSF track). Currently about 24 trains a day travel on east-west CP track and a few per week go on the north-south BNSF track.

If the connector is built, the track would see a large increase in its volume of trains running north-south. This concerns many local officials, as it would allow mile-long trains carrying oil and potentially other hazardous materials through Theo Wirth Park, across I-94, near Target Field, and through downtown Minneapolis.

The proposed track would also affect first responders trying to get to emergencies in Crystal and Robbinsdale. The new track would block numerous at-grade crossings, which due to the increased volume and the increased length of trains, would require first responders to add roughly two to three miles to their trips from the south side of Crystal, where the first responders are housed, to the north side.

An additional concern is the effects of this proposal on several local businesses. There are three businesses on the path of the new connector that would have to be moved in order for the project to be completed.

The three pieces of legislation surrounding this project seek to delay or move the project to a different area. Of the three bills looking to address the communities’ concerns, one provision did make it into the Omnibus State Government, Veterans and Military Affairs Appropriation Bill (S.F. 888). Please see the “Limiting Eminent Domain Powers of a Railroad Company or Corporation” section for a description.

Resolution for an Environmental Impact Statement

The first piece of legislation is a resolution on behalf of the Minnesota legislature urging the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to order BNSF and Canadian Pacific to complete an environmental impact statement prior to acquiring land, completing final design, or beginning construction of a railroad connector track in the City of Crystal. (S.F. 866)

Requiring an Environmental Impact Statement

This legislation sets specific parameters when an EIS must be completed on the project. Under the legislation, MnDOT would complete the EIS, and no construction would begin and no governmental decision granting authority for the project may occur until the Commissioner deems the EIS is adequate. This would ensure a thorough environmental review is performed before a project like this changes the character of the community. (S.F. 1074)

Other Transportation Bills that Did Not Pass

Uninsured Drivers

Legislation was passed to crack down on uninsured drivers by not allowing re-registration if they are without insurance. The bill specifies that proof of insurance is demonstrated by providing the insurance company’s name, policy number, and policy expiration date for the motor vehicle or motorcycle – the same information that is on insurance verification card.

Until 2003, DVS required drivers to provide their insurance card as part of the vehicle registration and renewal process. This program was discontinued when DVS did not have the resources to store and verify collected data. Currently, drivers who register, reregister, or transfer ownership only have to attest to having auto or motorcycle insurance without showing proof.

The Minnesota Association for Justice and the Insurance Federation of Minnesota testified in support of the bill which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2016. (S.F. 1108)

Drivers’ Licenses for All

To help ensure safer roads for Minnesota, legislation was passed to reduce barriers for Minnesotans to get a valid drivers’ license.

The bill changes the types of documents needed for people to use as a form of identification that is accepted to receive drivers’ licenses. The bill allows Minnesota ID, provisional, and driver’s license applicants to:

  • Use a valid unexpired passport from another country that shows a photo of the cardholder;
  • A certified birth certificate that matches the passport;
  • Both the unexpired passport and certified birth certificate must have security measures making it difficult to alter the document;
  • Any foreign governmental identification document not in English must have an English translation

Additionally, the bill repeals the requirement of US citizenship, short-term admission to the US, and authorized presence status. The bill also removes the status check date which shows the lawful period someone is allowed to be in the country. It will no longer be required to be shown on the driver’s license or ID, which would affect license and ID renewal.

An amendment was accepted to clarify that a “Driving Card” means a class D driver’s license, provisional license, instructional permit, motorcycle permit, and motorcycle instruction permit (which would not be eligible for voter registration). The card must be designed to say “FOR DRIVING ONLY” on the back, whereas a Minnesota ID card must say “FOR IDENTITY ONLY”. The bill also requires the Secretary of State to notify county auditors that these cards cannot be used for voter registration, and these auditors would inform election judges not to accept them.

According to the Department of Public Safety, the only changes this law would have is that an applicant could then issue a driver’s license or ID with a valid unexpired passport and a certified birth certificate from another country. Any previous steps applicants would have to make to receive a card remain in place.

The bill is very similar to a bill which passed the Senate in 2013; however, due to House inaction the legislation did not become law. (S.F. 224)

Increasing Worker Safety on MN’s Roads

The workers who maintain and repair Minnesota’s sprawling road network saw great efforts to improve their safety in the last biennium. This year, further legislation was heard to increase safety and offer stiffer penalties for people who violate workplace safety rules.

This bill would allow a peace officer to stop and issue a citation to a driver if the officer has probable cause to believe that a driver has disobeyed a work zone flagger within the last 4 hours, the position that is one of the most vulnerable positions for workers. (S.F. 1393)

NEXT: Veterans

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