Capitol Comments: Plenty of work remains as legislative finish is in sight

Published 8:45 pm Friday, April 15, 2022

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Before the Minnesota House departed for its Passover/Easter break, we approved an emergency funding bill that begins to address what is becoming a major problem in the Upper Midwest: bird flu.

Peggy Bennett

As stated previously, highly pathogenetic avian flu (HPAI) has entered Minnesota. According to a recent Associated Press news article, it has now been found in 21 poultry flocks across 11 Minnesota counties. More than a million birds have been infected and sadly must be euthanized to keep the virus from spreading. Commercial turkey farms have seen the most damage, but it’s worth noting that backyard chicken flocks face similar danger.

Because the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) indicated that funds in the Agriculture Emergency Account could be depleted by the time the Legislature returns after Easter break, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation allocating $1 million to this area so the emergency can be addressed.

The bill specifically allows MDA to use the money for HPAI testing supplies and other biosecurity efforts. The transfer of funds to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health for surveillance can take place until Dec. 31, 2022. This will help our state maintain the biosecurity efforts that are so important to protect our domestic flocks. The funding will also be used to allow for the humane depopulation of infected flocks. It’s not something we like to think about or do, but it’s the only way to control the virus in infected flocks at this point. 

I was very pleased we were able to pass this legislation off the House floor on a nearly unanimous vote, and it passed unanimously in the Senate. It is possible we may be looking at additional emergency funding in the future for this area if the flu spreads rapidly in the coming weeks.

When the Minnesota House returns from the holiday break, the House Democrat majority will begin to bring their committee bills to the House floor for debate and vote. They look to spend most of the more than $9 billion surplus on new and existing programs.

The Senate GOP majority has already passed some of their proposals for the budget surplus and will continue to do so after the break as well. They are proposing returning the majority of the surplus to the taxpayers through tax relief. This is my preferred option as well.

We have a fully funded state budget right now. Except for very select emergency issues, I believe tax relief should be our focus. Taxpayers deserve a break. They should be able to keep more of their own money in their own pockets to help deal with the high cost of everything from gas, energy, food and more. 

The second year of the biennium, which we are currently in, is typically known as the “bonding year” for the Legislature. We are still waiting on a capital investment plan to be unveiled, which borrows money at low interest rates to help fund needed construction infrastructure across Minnesota. I am hoping to get the final phase of the Fountain Lake dredging project in that bill, as well as at least part of the Albert Lea wastewater treatment plant. With roughly a month to go before session ends, I am hopeful we’ll have some answers on these projects soon.

I wish you all a healthy and happy Easter!

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 27A representative.