Updated: Avian Flu Funding Heads To Negotiations

A provision Democratic senators added to avian flu funding legislation resulted in House Republicans rejecting it and forcing negotiations to resolve the differences.

The Minnesota Senate joined the House Tuesday afternoon in passing avian flu funding legislation, but with an unrelated provision that produced Republican objections. As midnight approached, the House took up the issue and opted to send the bill into House-Senate negotiations instead of accepting the Senate change.

Senators unanimously voted to provide $514,000 to the state Agriculture Department and $379,000 to the Board of Animal Health for state expenses in dealing with the outbreak. The House also was unanimous in passing its bill last week.

A provision in the Senate bill to change when officials report information on how much money is in the state budget reserve  drew strong opposition from Republican senators, who said it only would delay appropriating the emergency money. The provision would move the reporting date from January to August.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that the House could not accept the unrelated provision, and late Tuesday other Republican joined him.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said that the report provision was innocent and by sending the bill to negotiations only leads to a delay in getting money out to state workers.

“We could solve this situation tonight,” Thissen said.

Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said the bill must be changed because the report provision has not been vetted by House committees. The delay, she said, is because senators added it.

“We have games being played in the Senate,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said.

A Hamilton motion to send the bill to negotiators passed 73-58.

In the Senate, Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, offered an amendment to strip the bill of the report date change.

“It is only common sense to take this language off so it doesn’t slow down the emergency response to the avian flu virus,” Westrom said.

“We are the turkey producing capital of the United States,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria said. “We are in a real disaster right now; this has to be dealt with.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Senate needed to fix the funding bill already approved by the House, so the report provision was not the only addition. He said the House forgot to provide for a pass-through of federal funds that the Legislature must approve.

“The House sent us a bill that was not yet ready to go to the governor,” Bakk said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said that once he receives the funding bill he will sign it as soon as possible.

The governor also said that his chief of staff talked to the Arkansas governor’s chief of staff and convinced that state to not ban Minnesota turkeys. Apparently the only state considering banning Minnesota birds, Arkansas has reported an avian flu outbreak, too.

Health experts say there is no danger to humans eating turkeys and state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson says there is no way an infected bird will get into the food supply.

Also Tuesday, the state Board of Animal Health reported that 2.1 million turkeys have died of the flu or been euthanized to prevents its spread. There are 31 farms in 15 counties affected. The first case in central Minnesota was reported in a commercial turkey flock of 310,000 in Wadena County