By Don Davis
The Minnesota Legislature overwhelmingly approved disaster-relief funds today for 20 counties today during one of the shortest special sessions in recent years.
The Senate passed the bill 59-0, with eight absentees, followed by the House 127-1 as six members were gone. It took four hours for the formalities, committee meetings, floor debate and the vote.
Today’s action sends $4.5 million to 18 counties affected by June storms and floods and frees up $219,000 for Rock and Nobles counties and the city of Worthington to use to recover from an April ice storm.
Few spoke against anything in the disaster-relief bill, but Republicans used the opportunity to complain that the brief session did not take the opportunity to overturn the “man-made disaster” of tax increases the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton approved earlier this year.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that the tax increases, including one on farm equipment repair, are driving business to nearby states. He talked about billboards declaring the Wisconsin, South Dakota and North Dakota are “open for business.”
“Let’s make these signs go away,” he said.
Eight counties in the district of Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, will receive disaster-relief money, and he said he was grateful. “This was not a major disaster … but even small disasters in communities are important where they happen.”
However, he joined other Republicans in attacking tax increases.
Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said that his southwestern Minnesota communities sought $1 million more for ice storm recovery, but he did not fight for the money since legislative leaders rejected the idea.
“I know what the outcome is going to be,” he said before the vote.
The June 20-26 storms force power outages on 600,000 Minnesota homes and businesses, the largest loss of electricity in state history. Mudslides closed roads.
“Thousands of mature trees were uprooted,” said Deputy Commissioner Joe Kelly of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Counties to get money for recover from the June disaster are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin. The funds are to go to local governments, with no aid available to home and business owners.
Democrats and Republicans agreed that changes are needed in the disaster-relief procedure used by the state.
“I don’t expect that this special session is the end of the conversation,” Senate Finance Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said.
Cohen and other leaders said they expect the process to change next year.