No stumble on restart of agriculture finance bill


Seven days ago, the normally noncontroversial omnibus agriculture finance bill (HF473) stumbled at the starting line and failed to gain approval of the House Agriculture Policy Committee.

Wednesday morning, the same committee passed the finance bill without much conflict, and also passed an omnibus agriculture policy bill, HF1071, for good measure.

Concerns about HF473 revolved around what some committee members thought was vague language in a section of the bill that allocated over $2 million for the Department of Agriculture, but they believed didn’t provide direction for how the agency would spend it.

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Hinckley) who broke ranks with his party and voted with Republican committee members against the bill one week ago, explained Wednesday that HF473 offered “a blank check to the commissioner,” giving the department the ability to spend the money however it saw fit.

Faust said it was the responsibility of the Legislature to provide “a lot more direction than what was in the original bill.” To do so, he offered an amendment to HF473 establishing criteria for how those funds should be spent.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), the committee chair, ruled the amendment out of order because it was “a finance amendment” that went beyond the scope of the policy committee.

However, she allowed Faust to explain why he was offering it, and he received assurances that his amendment — which he said he plans to offer as a bill — would be heard for HF473’s next stop; the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.

HF473 would appropriate nearly $40.45 million each year for fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015. Of those funds, the Agriculture Department would receive $32.83 million, while the Board of Animal Health ($4.84 million) and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute ($2.78 million) receive the rest.

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

HF1071 — omnibus agriculture policy bill

Some of the key provisions of the omnibus agriculture policy bill, which now moves to the House Government Operations Committee, include:

  • changes to pesticide storage and handling requirements;
  • changes to requirements for ethanol use, and biofuel goals for the future; and
  • revisions to the noxious weed law.

The companion, SF1160, sponsored by Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), awaits action by the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.