A legislative question: To bond or not to bond?

Republicans who control the Legislature are sending mixed signals about whether they will consider state funding for flood-control projects this year.

The funds, which come from the state selling bonds, would be used to build dikes and other structures to prevent future flood damage. House and Senate committees have held hearings on the subject, during which city and watershed officials told of the need.

On Tuesday, however, the chairman of the Senate bonding committee said he does not anticipate any bonding bill this year, even one dealing with flooding.

“The immediate urgency doesn’t seem to be there,” Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, told a reporter Tuesday.

The fact that there has been little flood damage so far lessens the need for a bill, he said. And a $5 billion budget deficit means there is little money available for bonding, the senator added.

At the same time, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, told another reporter that he would look into the need for a bonding bill to prevent future floods.

Zellers said that he had not heard information that some flood-prone communities are concerned that if lawmakers wait until near the end of the legislative session on May 23 to pass a flood bonding bill that they may not be able to complete flood-prevention projects this year.

Officials of Oakport Township, north of Moorhead, say a bill passed before this year’s flooding recedes would allow construction work to begin soon and finish before any flooding next year. But a few weeks’ delay could mean the community would be vulnerable to flooding next year because gaps may remain in the community’s protection structures.

Zellers and other legislative leaders plan to visit the Red River Valley later this week.

 Online driver training

Legislators are looking into allowing students to take driver training courses on line.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said his bill still would require “hands-on, one-on-one” driving lessons. However, classroom time could be replaced by students getting the information from approved on-line classes.

“This is meeting the students where they are,” long-time driver instructor Debbie Prudhomme said.

However, Cindy Thienes of the Minnesota Driving School Association told a Senate committee that she is worried that students would be distracted and not learn like they can in a traditional classroom.

House and Senate bills await committee action.

 Capitol check wanted

Minnesota Capitol officials are so concerned that chunks of marble could fall off that they have erected protective scaffolding over many entrances.

Now a bill by Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, awaits action by the full House to require a structural assessment of the Capitol.

The bill would require the Administration Department to draw up a prioritized list of restoration projects by Aug. 1.

“We have one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the United States,” Loeffler said. “Our Capitol is 106 years old. While the bones remain strong, many major systems, including the exterior roof and stonework, are in distress and literally crumbling.”

An extensive restoration project began on the Capitol dome last year, with a major goal to prevent water leaks.

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