For Minnesotans struggling to pay energy bills, bill offers more certainty

Lawmakers could soon vote on another measure aimed at guaranteeing energy assistance to Minnesota’s low-income residents.The House Energy Policy Committee approved a bill Monday, sponsored by Rep. Yvonne Selcer (DFL-Minnetonka), which would establish an annual $8 million base funding level for an electric rate discount program operated by Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility.Between 60,000 and 70,000 Xcel Energy customers are part of a low-income energy assistance program through the state’s largest utility each year, an Xcel spokesperson told lawmakers. It is a program, said Pam Marshall, the executive director of Energy CENTS Coalition, which “targets the very lowest of income levels.”The program is funded through fees paid by Xcel Energy customers and aimed at low-income Minnesotans who are part of the government-funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.HF2466 would also require base funding to increase in line with residential electricity rates approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Currently, the program is funded at the level needed to provide a 50 percent discount on the first 400kWh consumed each month by low-income customers.“We’ve already seen the commitment from this Legislature” to help low-income Minnesotans with energy costs, Selcer said, referring to a bill signed into law last week that provides $20 million in emergency heating assistance funds. “This is another great way to help those in need.”The legislation is now poised for consideration by the full House. A Senate companion, SF2092, sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. Continue Reading

Select House committee to start work on curbing drug use

Members of a recently formed legislative drug task force are set to meet with the public Friday in Duluth to begin their work examining synthetic drug abuse in Minnesota.House Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) announced last week the formation of the Speaker’s Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs that will study drug-related issues and develop recommended policies to combat surging synthetic drug use.The group is scheduled to attend a public hearing on synthetic drug abuse June 7 in Duluth. Thissen said in a news release the committee will hold hearings during the interim with a goal of issuing recommendations by Feb. 25, 2014 on curtailing the sale and use of drugs.Lawmakers serving on the committee are: Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker), Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park), Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter). Continue Reading