A funny thing happened on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives on Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) asked Environment Chair Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) if the Ag Omnibus Finance bill and the Environment & Natural Resources Omnibus bill were being combined into a single bill:
Thissen: Is my understanding correct that the ag bill and the environment bill [gestures with hand to bracket each bill name as a separate item] are being negotiated as a single omnibus bill? [draws a circle in the air with hand to indicate inclusion].
Thissen: When is the last time that conference committee met?
McNamara: Leader Thissen, if you ask, when did we meet, we have not met yet.
Here's the exchange between Thissen and McNamara:
Now, this exchange is striking for significant reasons.
First, when the Democrats took over the Minnesota House after the 2012 elections, then-Speaker Thissen rolled the Ag Finance and Environment & Natural Resources Committees into one, prompting Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) to start pissing & moaning about how this arrangement slighted ag, especially since a woman from Minneapolis was chairing the committee (never mind that she owns more farmland than Rep. Hamilton).
When the Republicans took control again after the 2014 mid-term election, Hamilton claimed in a press release and elsewhere, that combining ag and environment in one committee created a situation in which "ag and rural interests have been treated as an afterthought in state government."
But if Republicans combine the two--then don't actually meet in a conference committee? Apparently not an afterthought.
Especially not five days before the legislature has to adjourn by virtue of the state constitution.
Second: just minutes before McNamara admitted that the conference committee for the now combined ag & environment omnibus bill had not yet met, Hamilton argued that there was no need for the House to suspend the rules--as Representative David Bly (DFL-Northfield) moved--and pass the stand-alone avian flu bill that Governor Dayton had requested because they were all working so very, very hard on the issue.
And he had it covered in the Ag Omnibus bill.
Hamilton claimed that Minority Ag Finance Committee Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) was totally on board with him and working hard, but as the screengrab of the vote board above reveals, she voted for the Bly amendment. And yes, she's a co-author of HF2296. Who you going to believe: Hamilton or the revisor's lies?
Takeaway: So, we see a couple things happening here.
First, the Republicans were against combining ag and environment law-making, before they were totally for it--to the extent that they can't suspend the rules to make sure that legislative relief happens for Minnesota's poultry industry, afflicted by a pandemic disease.
Second, they are against passing HF2296 (again) because they are working so very very hard to provide relief for that industry via the ag omnibus bill. Even though the conference committee for the ag AND environment bills--now rolled into one, an act that was a travesty just two years before in 2013 under DFL control.
Third, the gentleman from Mountain Lake insists the Minority Lead is on board with him, even though when she gets a chance to officially state her opinion, she cast a roll call vote agreeing with Bly--and she's a co-author of HF2296.
Oh heck, just watch the most recent floor debate on HF2296 yourself.
In light of the fact--and it is a fact--that the conference committee considering the ag & environment bill actually has yet to meet, it's much easier to understand Bly's urgency in moving to suspend the rules and pass a stand-alone bill to help the state's poultry industry--and the frustration in the voice of the ordinarily mild-mannered and kind Northfield resident--than to accept Hamilton's blittering on about how hard everybody's working on this.
Of course, Hamilton loves everybody, but fails to note that the conference committee hasn't met.
Perhaps that singular fact is what makes Bly suggest that passing HF2296 just might, maybe, be prudent.
Here's the debate on the Bly motion to suspend the rules and bring HF2296 to a vote (never mind the Youtube cap shot--via the miracle of code, this clip should open at the earlier point in the session):
Screengrab: Assistant Minority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) doles out a little stinkeye while Leader Thissen asks McNamara if the committee conferring on the once-abhorrent combination of ag and environment omnibus bill had actually met.
If you appreciate Bluestem Prairie, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or use the paypal button below:
Email subscribers can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.