Disaster bill passes, but communities will want more

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs a bill giving flood- and tornado-damaged communities $80 million. Legislators and mayors involved in the bill's passage surround him Monday night, hours after the House and Senate passed the bill.

State disaster relief is on its way to flood- and tornado-damaged communities, but officials said they may be back for more help next year.

Minnesota legislators unanimously approved $80 million in disaster relief during a brief special session Monday, with most heading to southern Minnesota communities hit by floods fed by record September rains. Wadena and other communities affected by a June 17 tornado outbreak will get $6.6 million from the bill.

The House quickly approved the measure 131-0 and the Senate 66-0. The governor signed the bill less than three hours later.

Some state representatives were critical of the $6.6 million in the bill pegged for Wadena.

Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said Wadena’s plans to build a new community center to replace facilities destroyed by the June 17 tornado are inappropriate.

“A desire for a changed location is not a disaster,” she said. “We should focus on flood relief for people who did not have enough insurance to cover their losses.”

The bill contains $750,000 for Wadena to plan a community center combining swimming pool, ice rink, meeting rooms and other facilities destroyed around the city in June.

Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, said the only new item in the community center plan is an indoor pool, to replace an outdoor one the tornado destroyed.

Like other lawmakers representing disaster areas, Murdock said the plan is to return next year with requests for more state money. The borrowed state funds would be used with insurance money and private donations to build the community center.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that in every disaster, more financial needs crop up as rebuilding continues, so he predicted Wadena and other communities would be back for more money.

The House disaster-relief debate lasted less than an hour, with senators needing even less time.

Most of the 201 legislators attended the session, including Rep. Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, who received a kidney transplant last week. The frail-looking Dill arrived to a standing ovation as representatives noticed him walking into a House chamber’s side door shortly after the House convened.

Testimony in committee meetings leading up to the special session was emotional at times.

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker’s voice cracked as he told a Senate committee about last month’s flood.

“This has basically wiped out my town,” the 20-year veteran mayor said.

Committees also heard from Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, who said more than 200 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the June tornado.

“The fun things to do in Wadena are gone,” Wolden said, talking about the loss of the pool and ice rink.

The community has a chance to combine those facilities into a new building next to a new high school that replaces one destroyed on June 17, the mayor said.

“We have the unique opportunity to save millions of dollars,” Wolden said of the new combined facility. “Doing things once, doing things right.”

Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said more help may be needed when the Legislature returns on Jan. 4.

“This is a start,” Skogen said.

Among funds in the bill are some to help the Wadena-Deer Creek school district. “We didn’t anticipate rolling 17 school buses into a pile,” Skogen said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who represents flooded areas, added: “This is the good work that government does … to help those in positions that truly can’t help themselves.”

The bill provides funds for debris removal, repair of government facilities, some individual assistance and tax breaks and tax deadline extensions for some people, businesses and governments.

State funds not only will provide flood relief, but $20 million is set aside to help reduce future floods.

Much of the funding is to fill the gap left after federal money pays 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads. There also are funds in the bill to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters. Also included are tax breaks and tax deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration, but some help is available via state funds. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

Some legislators talked about passing other bills, primarily one getting tough on bullying in schools. However, legislative leaders limited the 140-minute session to disaster relief.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, offered — and quickly withdrew — an amendment to the disaster bill to increase unemployment insurance payments.

“We have a lot of emergencies going on in this state,” Rukavina said, including the economy, which he said “is in shambles.”

Senate joins House in passing disaster bill

The Minnesota Legislature unanimously approved an $80 million disaster-relief package this afternoon.

Most of the money is to go to southern Minnesota communities affected by flooding last month.

The House voted 131-0 in favor of the funding after discussing the measure less than an hour. Senators followed 66-0 in a shorter debate. Gov. Tim Pawlenty was expected to sign the bill soon.

It was one of the fastest-ever Minnesota responses to a flood problem.

Some state representatives were critical of the $6.6 million in the bill that was pegged for Wadena and other communities affected by June tornados.

Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said Wadena’s plans to build a new community center to replace facilities destroyed by the June 17 tornado are inappropriate.

“A desire for a changed location is not a disaster,” she said. “We should focus on flood relief for people who did not have enough insurance to cover their loses.”

The bill contains $750,000 for Wadena to plan for a community center to combine swimming pool, ice rink, meeting rooms and other facilities destroyed in June. The new center would be next to the new high school, which will replace the destroyed school.

Most of the discussion centered on last month’s floods.

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker’s voice cracked as he told a Senate committee this morning about last month’s flood.

“This has basically wiped out my town,” the 20-year veteran mayor said as state lawmakers began to look into funding disaster relief for southern Minnesota floods and a June 17 tornado outbreak.

All businesses in the southeast Minnesota community were wiped out, along with half of the homes.

The committee also heard from Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, who said more than 200 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the record June tornado event.

Wadena wants to build a new community center to replace several facilities destroyed in June, including a hockey rink and swimming pool.

“The fun things to do in Wadena are gone,” Wolden said.

Most of the bill’s money will go to southern Minnesotans who endured floods last month, but $6.6 million is set aside for Wanda and other areas affected by the June tornadoes.

Legislative committees met throughout the morning, leading to an early-afternoon special legislative session.

Much of the funding is to fill the gap left after federal money pays 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads to debris removal. There also are funds in the bill, which legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to last week, to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters, as well as tax breaks and deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

A broader federal program to help individuals affected by floods was not approved, but the still bill does target some money to individuals.

House OKs flood, tornado disaster bill

Reps. Bernie Lieder of Crookston, left, and Andrew Falk of Murdock take time to chat before voting on a disaster-relief bill.

The Minnesota House unanimously approved an $80 million disaster-relief package this afternoon, with the Senate expected to follow shortly.

Most of the money is to go to southern Minnesota communities affected by flooding last month.

Some state representatives complained that Republicans opposed to federal money were hypocritical when they accepted Washington funds for disaster relief. Others were critical of the $6.6 million in the bill that was pegged for Wadena and other communities affected by June tornados.

Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said Wadena’s plans to build a new community center to replace facilities destroyed by the June 17 tornado are inappropriate.

“A desire for a changed location is not a disaster,” she said. “We should focus on flood relief for people who did not have enough insurance to cover their loses.”

The bill contains $750,000 for Wadena to plan for a community center to combine swimming pool, ice rink, meeting rooms and other facilities destroyed in June. The new center would be next top the new high school, which will replace the destroyed school.

The House debate lasted less than a hour.

Most of the discussion centered on last month’s floods.

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker’s voice cracked as he told a Senate committee this morning about last month’s flood.

“This has basically wiped out my down,” the 20-year veteran mayor said as state lawmakers began to look into funding disaster relief for southern Minnesota floods and a June 17 tornado outbreak.

All businesses in the southeast Minnesota community were wiped out, along with half of the homes.

It was the beginning of a series of emotional comments to committees throughout the morning.

The committee also heard from Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, who said more than 200 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the record June tornado event.

Wadena wants to build a new community center to replace several facilities destroyed in June, including a hockey rink and swimming pool.

“The fun things to do in Wadena are gone,” Wolden said.

Legislators today looked at an $80 million disaster appropriation during what was supposed to be a special session that lasts for just a few hours.

Most of the money would go to southern Minnesotans who endured floods last month, but $6.6 million is set aside for Wanda and other areas affected by the June tornadoes.

Legislative committee meetings throughout the morning were to culminate with a 1 p.m. special legislative session that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders said should be limited to nothing more than disaster response.

Much of the funding is to fill the gap left after federal money pays 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads to debris removal. There also are funds in the bill, which legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to last week, to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters, as well as tax breaks and deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

A broader federal program to help individuals affected by floods was not approved, but the still bill does target some money to individuals.

Some legislators have talked about passing other bills, primarily one getting tough on bullying in schools. However, legislative leaders frowned on that and pledged to limit the session to disaster relief.

Emotions run high in disaster legislative session meetings

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker tells a Senate committee meeting this morning about his community’s extensive flood damage, watched by Sen. Ann Lynch of Rochester.

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker’s voice cracked as he told a Senate committee this morning about last month’s flood.

“This has basically wiped out my town,” the 20-year veteran mayor said as state lawmakers began to look into funding disaster relief for southern Minnesota floods and a June 17 tornado outbreak.

All businesses in the southeast Minnesota community were wiped out, along with half of the homes.

It was the beginning of a series of emotional comments to committees throughout the morning.

The committee also heard from Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, who said more than 200 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the record June tornado event.

Wadena wants to build a new community center to replace several facilities destroyed in June, including a hockey rink and swimming pool.

“The fun things to do in Wadena are gone,” Wolden said.

Legislators today looked at an $80 million disaster appropriation during what was supposed to be a special session that lasts for just a few hours.

Most of the money would go to southern Minnesotans who endured floods last month, but $6.6 million is set aside for Wanda and other areas affected by the June tornadoes.

Legislative committee meetings throughout the morning were to culminate with a 1 p.m. special legislative session that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders said should be limited to nothing more than disaster response.

Much of the funding is to fill the gap left after federal money pays 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads to debris removal. There also are funds in the bill, which legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to last week, to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters, as well as tax breaks and deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

A broader federal program to help individuals affected by floods was not approved, but the still bill does target some money to individuals.

Some legislators have talked about passing other bills, primarily one getting tough on bullying in schools. However, legislative leaders frowned on that and pledged to limit the session to disaster relief.

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden tells a Senate committee Monday that the community needs state aid to recover from a June 17 tornado that destroyed or badly damaged more than 200 homes, with 10 business buildings torn down.

Four senators who thought they were done with legislative committee work because they are not seeking re-election were among those hearing a disaster-relief funding bill Monday. From left are Sens. Steve Murphy of Red Wing, Steve Dille of Dassel, Jim Vickerman of Tracy and Pat Pariseau of Farmington.

Committee meetings lead up to special disaster session

Minnesota legislators are returning to St. Paul today with a goal of appropriating $80 million to help communities hit by floods and tornadoes.

Most of the money would go to southern Minnesotans who endured floods last month, but $6.6 million is set aside for Wanda and other areas affected by a June 17 tornado outbreak.

Legislative committee meetings throughout the morning were to culminate with a 1 p.m. special legislative session that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders said should be limited to nothing more than disaster response and should be finished later in the day.

Much of the funding is to match federal money that is to pay 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads to debris removal. There also are funds in the bill, which legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to last week, to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters, as well as tax breaks and deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

A broader federal program to help individuals affected by floods was not approved, but the still bill does target some money to individuals.

Some legislators have talked about passing other bills, primarily one getting tough on bullying in schools. However, legislative leaders frowned on that and pledged to limit the session to disaster relief.

Rewards offered for voter fraud convictions

Rewards of up to $500 are being offered to Minnesotans for information that leads to conviction in voter fraud cases.

Election Integrity Watch, a coalition of conservative groups, announced it would offer the rewards a few days after saying that it will recruit volunteers to watch the polls on Nov. 2 for voter fraud.

“We are putting a price on the heads of anyone who would attempt to organize people with the intent of cheating in our election,” said Jeff Davis, president of Minnesota Majority, one of the organizations involved in the project. “We’ve received reports of organizers enticing people to vote fraudulently with small financial incentives such as gift cards. We’ve also seen evidence of this illegal practice in the official incident logs from the 2008 election. We will now offer individuals a more lucrative incentive for turning-in these organizers of voter fraud.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, in charge of elections statewide, says there are few reports of voter fraud across the state. He is a Democrat, but many Republicans call for new laws to reduce what they see as fraud and the potential for more fraud.