Capitol notebook: Propane shortage to be probed

A Northfield, Minn., farmer will be among those testifying to the U.S. Senate Energy Committee Thursday about this winter’s propane shortage and high prices.

John Zimmerman, Minnesota Turkey Growers’ Association past president, is to testify at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

“The recent propane crisis happened during one of the coldest winters in years, hitting thousands vulnerable Minnesota households, businesses and farm operations with high prices and low supplies,” Franken said. “We can’t let the same things that caused this winter’s shortage — and the price shocks that came with it — happen again.”

Franken asked the committee to investigate the shortage.

Senate approves outdoor funds

Minnesota senators Monday approved spending $109.3 million on a variety of outdoors projects.

The spending follows the 12-member Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommendations that include programs such as $4 million to establish an aquatic invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota and $9.7 million for easements and restoration of wetlands with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Ducks Unlimited.

Another $4.6 million would go to the Department of Natural Resources for competitive grants of up to $400,000 each to smaller organizations for enhancing, restoring or protecting forests, wetlands, prairies and habitats.

“I feel confident this bill takes into consideration the environmental needs of our state,” sponsor Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said. “This is a unique opportunity that our state has to take advantage of this dedicated fund to ensure we are properly preserving and enhancing our state’s natural wonders.”

Lessard-Sams money comes from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

No more ‘Asian’ carp

Minnesota legislators have been trying to get rid of Asian carp for years and on Monday senators got rid of the ‘Asian’ part of the name.

On a split voice vote, senators approved dropping “Asian” from the invasive carp name.

“Words matter,” Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin, said in urging the change.

“We may not be able to stop others from using the terminology,” he said, but the state does not need to use the term “Asian.”

Sen. Foung Hawj, D-St. Paul, said the state needs to do a better job of being sensitive.

The provision was included in a larger bill.

Women vet plates OK’d

Minnesota representatives Monday gave unanimous approval to establishing a vehicle license plate available to women military veterans.

With a 110-0 vote and no debate, the House answered requests made by women veterans in numerous legislative committee meetings during the past two months.

Rep. Jerry Newton, D-Coon Rapids, said that he has heard from many women veterans who say “they are tired of driving their cars” with veterans’ license plates, only to have people come up and tell them “thank your husband for his service to the country.”

A similar bill awaits a Senate vote.

Beach lifeguard rule passes

Lifeguards at government-run Minnesota beaches will be required to know CPR and otherwise be certified if Gov. Mark Dayton signs a bill headed his way.

The House Monday voted 110-10 to require that beaches run by governments such as cities hire only certified lifeguards, if they have lifeguards. The law does not require governments to hire lifeguards.

Some Republicans said the bill could lead to more danger.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called the bill: “A false sense of security of another law, another mandate, placed on our communities in the state of Minnesota.”

He said that he feared that many public entities would just post “swim at your own risk” signs rather than pay for lifeguards with proper training and certification.

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