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Capitol Chatter: Who says lawmakers can't agree?

A Minnesota House committee meets during the first half of the 2017 legislative session. Many decsions lawmakers make are not controversial. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislators actually can work together.

Sure, the media mostly covers things when Democrats and Republicans disagree. But there have been several bills to gain broad bipartisan support, and one major piece of legislation actually passed the House unanimously.

The House voted 131-0 in favor of spending $500 million of sales tax receipts Minnesotans authorized in a 2008 vote for clean water, arts, culture, outdoors and parks projects.

A House committee led by Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, took lots of testimony about many projects before whittling the number down.

One provision farmers sought would provide $22 million for the state's 90 soil and water conservation districts. They are to use the money to help landowners meet regulations that require vegetative buffers around water.

Another $24.5 million would go to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to improve water quality.

Greater Minnesota would get $17.7 million for grants for parks and trails and $8 million could be headed to the Minnesota Public Television Association members throughout the state, with $3.3 million earmarked for Minnesota Public Radio for cultural heritage and history programs.

The so-called legacy funding will is the the only one to pass unanimously in recent days. A bill funding agriculture programs passed 134-0.

If those two votes represent a theme, it could be a support of greater Minnesota projects.

'No' to pipeline costs

Senators voted 33-31 against paying legal fees some northern Minnesota counties could face because a pipeline company says it paid too much in property taxes.

Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick, brought up the issue, saying it "is a major concern for those 11 northern Minnesota counties."

Clearwater County, for instance, would need to pay $7.2 million if Enbridge pipeline company wins its lawsuit. The entire annual property tax collection by the county is $6.8 million, Lourey said.

It is the same story for many other counties, the senator added, but is worst in Red Lake County. There, he said, the 4,000-population county would be required to pay $3.5 million.

Senate Tax Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, argued against the Lourey proposal, saying the state does not know how much the final cost would be.

"We are aware of the issue," Chamberlain assured senators. "We are addressing it."

While the Senate tax bill passed without the Lourey provision, Chamberlain said there still is time to make changes as the House, Senate and Dayton administration negotiate a final bill.

'Twin Cities PUC'

State Rep. Pat Garofalo is a mission to change the Public Utilities Commision, which regulates pipelines, telephones and electric utilities.

The PUC board mostly is made up of people from the Twin Cities or nearby, the Farmington Republican pointed out in a jobs and energy funding bill debate. So he called it the "Twin Cities Public Utilities Commission."

A legislative move is afoot to change the PUC from five members to eight, one from each of the state's congressional districts.

Franken: Law hurts privacy

A new federal law gives big corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T more profits and Americans less privacy, U.S. Sen. Al Franken said.

"We cannot allow corporate profits to outweigh consumer privacy rights," the Minnesota Democrat said.

Franken has been one of the most outspoken federal lawmakers in favor of consumer privacy rights on the internet. The bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Donald Trump is one of the issues he has fought.

"All Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and I believe that right extends to the internet," Franken said. "Your digital footprint — the sites you browse, the apps you use and the sensitive data you provide to websites — deserves to be protected."

A big group hug?

Best line of the week: "We're not partisan people."

That came from House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, when discussing a bill that bitterly divides Republicans and Democrats.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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