House approves disaster relief package in special session


Lawmakers ended a one-day special session by overwhelmingly approving a $167.5 million disaster relief package for northeastern Minnesota and other areas affected by severe flooding and storm damage.

Passed 125-3 by the House and 60-7 by the Senate, Special Session HF1*/SF1 will aid communities and individuals affected by a series of storms in June and July that caused significant floods in and around Duluth and wind damage in other parts of the state.

“I’m proud to stand here in front of this body, because we get to do what we should be doing … taking care of those people affected in these floods,” saidRep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar).

The bill now awaits action by Gov. Mark Dayton, who is expected to sign it. Earlier this week, Dayton and the leaders of all four legislative caucuses signed an agreement limiting the special session to one legislative day and to disaster relief only.

The bill will pay the 25 percent local match for federal disaster aid. It will also provide individual relief for homeowners and businesses that were denied federal assistance. (See the spreadsheet.)

Funding will come from the state’s budget reserve and surplus funds left over from the last budget year. A number of transportation-related funds will also be tapped, and some of the spending will be reimbursed by the federal government.

House members representing the affected communities praised the bill and thanked their colleagues for taking quick action. Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter) spoke of a pair of his constituents — an elderly World War II veteran and his wife — who were living with a flooded basement, no power and no hot water.

“Today you are providing hope and help to people like that couple,” Ward said.

Some members expressed concern that the bill was being passed in an expedited manner. Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Savage) said lawmakers were abdicating their responsibility by allowing Dayton and the legislative leaders to negotiate the bill’s provisions in private, and by not discussing them in the appropriate House committees. His motion to adjourn the session so that legislators could work on the bill over the weekend failed on a voice vote.

A second bill, Special Session HF2*/ SF2, containing a handful of technical corrections, was also passed 126-2 by the House and 67-0 by the Senate.

At a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee earlier in the day, officials from northeastern Minnesota, which was severely damaged by flooding June 19-21, expressed gratitude for the Legislature’s willingness to address the issue.

“St. Louis County is in a world of hurt,” said St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg. “Without the Legislature, it would take years for us to recover.”