Minnesota lawmakers are heading back to their districts after approving $4.7 million in storm relief for 18 Minnesota counties hit by severe storms last June during a speedy, one-day special session at the Minnesota Capitol.
After a mere four hours, the relief package providing a 25 percent state match to $13.5 million in federal aid was approved. The money will be used for cleanup and rebuilding.
Monday afternoon, the Senate unanimously passed the bill by a 59-0 vote. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk praised the passage, saying, "Minnesotans come together to support one another after natural disasters, and the Legislature is no exception. I'm proud of the State Senate for taking this important step to ensure communities across our state can fully recover from the damage caused by severe storms earlier this year."
The House passed the bill by a near-unanimous vote, wrapping up the special session by 2 p.m. Rep. Alice Hauseman, of St. Paul, cast the lone dissenting vote in that chamber to protest her county's exclusion from the aid.
Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill at 4 p.m.
Some lawmakers introduced bills and urged repeals of recently-approved tax increases, but no other action was taken. Unless another special session is called, lawmakers will not return to the Capitol until the 2014 session begins in late February.
Yet, even though lawmakers wrapped up quickly, House Speaker Paul Thissen is already trying to ensure another special session won't be needed for future disaster relief.
"There's pretty broad agreement that we need to come up with some kind of mechanism that will allow a case like this, where the amount of money is significant but not huge, to allow flexibility -- to allow money to get to these communities without having the Legislature come back," he said.
Joe Kelly, deputy director of the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security, said the June 20 storms produced 500-year rainfalls in several communities and left 600,000 people without power. He also told lawmakers that Minnesota has had 19 major disasters since 2000 – six of them in the past two years.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM?
The $4.7 million in state disaster relief will come from unspent aid to northeastern Minnesota counties hit by severe flooding last year.
53 BILLS, ONLY 1 VOTE
While legislative leaders agreed the special session would only deal with storm damage, that agreement didn't stop the introduction of 20 bills from members of the House and 33 bills from the Senate.
- HF2 would repeal the farm equipment repair tax
- HF4 would create a disaster contingency fund within the Department of Public safety to prevent special sessions on disasters
- HF5 would repeal the business warehouse tax and biz warehouse
- HF7 would repeal the cigarette tax increase
- HF8 would repeal the child care union vote
HOUSE BILLS: http://bit.ly/1aYjkoN
SENATE BILLS: http://bit.ly/1cZeMfO
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.