Historically noncontroversial, agriculture omnibus bill doesn’t get out of committee

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The trouble for HF473 and its chances of passing the House Agriculture Policy Committee as currently written, began about 20 minutes into the committee’s meeting Wednesday. Department of Agriculture officials were wrapping up an overview of the omnibus agriculture finance bill, when Rep. Roger Erickson (DFL-Baudette) asked a question about a $2 million expenditure.

The line item in question, in what is the governor’s budget for agriculture, designated $2.276 million to the Board of Animal Health for bovine tuberculosis eradication efforts. Erickson asked if that disease hadn’t already been eradicated in Minnesota. He was told it had been, but that the line item — which the committee subsequently deleted — was language left over from previous biennia that the agency hoped to have corrected going forward; this seemed to doom its passage.

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Hinckley) voted with the Republican committee members, and the 8-8 result stopped HF473 from moving forward. His concerns with the bill seemed to be reflected in a question asked by Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca), who wondered if that money was no longer needed to fight TB, what the board would then use it for.

Greta Gauthier, director of government relations for the Department of Agriculture, said the money was still part of the animal health board’s total budget request of $4.841 million, and would be used to be fund normal operations rather than designated for a specific use. However, Faust was uncomfortable with that lack of specificity.

“I guess my opinion is, that’s about a 40, maybe a 45 percent, increase in funding then that they get to just decide what they want to,” Faust said. “And I think that’s a pretty significant increase for the dollars that we’re talking about, for us not to at least have an idea where it’s going.”

Faust made a motion to adjourn before the committee could take a final vote on HF473. When that motion failed on an 8-8 tie, he made a motion to amend the bill, which he said would allow the committee “to put in some policy” directing more specifically where money should be spent. It also failed by a vote of 8-8.

The Senate companion, SF845, sponsored by Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) awaits action in the Senate Jobs, Agriculture, Rural Development Committee.