Agriculture bill headed to conference committee

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The omnibus agriculture and rural development finance bill is on its way to a conference committee.

HF1039/ SF1016* was passed 104-20 as amended by the House, two days after it was passed 39-25 by the Senate. The Senate has requested a conference committee to work out the differences. The House is expected to accede to the request..

In total, the bill would appropriate nearly $79 million over the next biennium, with $76.6 million coming from the General Fund. Many of the funding proposals include the same appropriations recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton, such as completing more than $13 million in delinquent ethanol payments to qualified producers.

“This agriculture bill stands as the single and only example of the good things that can happen when reason prevails in the Republican majority,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls). “This bill makes the kind of honest choices that we need to make across all of this budget – not slashing and burning – if we want to create a responsible and fair solution for the people of Minnesota.

Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton), said the department’s first priority is the protection of the food supply, so the bill increases funding to hire additional retail food handler inspectors to deal with a 40 percent backlog of inspections. A progress report would be due to the Legislature by Feb. 1, 2013.

It also funds the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute and allows the department to inspect responsible users of anhydrous ammonia less frequently so inspectors can concentrate on repeat offenders more diligently.

Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) reacted to the prior deletion of his controversial “Cheeseburger bill.”

“This bill does good things … but as I examine the bill, something seems to be missing. It’s a few French fries short of a full meal deal. Where’s the beef?” Known as the “Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act,” the provision was intended to make food and beverage establishments immune to lawsuits if a customer became overweight from consuming too much food or drink.