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House panel approves bill to add $30 million to disaster assistance contingency account

Spring is a time of rebirth, and a time to replenish our northern souls after a long winter.

It’s also the time to replenish the state’s disaster assistance contingency account, says Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona), because spring may also bring floods and other natural disasters the state must deal with.

Pelowski sponsors HF38, which would appropriate $30 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2021 to replenish the account that has less than $4 million in it, an amount Pelowski said is inadequate.

“We are rapidly heading into spring where we know we are going to have issues with flooding,” he said.

By an 11-1 vote Wednesday, the House Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Discussion was relatively brief, as it received a full hearing in January (see Session Daily story). But several themes from that earlier meeting were touched on.

At issue is using money from the account for non-natural disasters, which happed when Gov. Tim Walz used $12 million to repair properties damaged or destroyed during the civil unrest in Minneapolis last year.

[MORE: Read about the contingency fund in Session Daily]

Several Republicans said they want the fund to be used exclusively for natural disasters.

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) said he was particularly upset that some of the money from the account was used to relocate the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. Its former home was destroyed during the unrest, a building that was uninsured.

Minneapolis was “negligent” for not insuring their property, he said, adding that “we ought to be careful not to bail them out for that negligence.”

Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) said he hopes lawmakers can avoid “the divisive language of bailouts” and focus on helping people who suffered from last year’s unrest through no fault of their own.

“I would never consider it a bailout when we’re helping our residents and our community members in Greater Minnesota,” he said.

Pelowski, the committee chair, said the bill should remain free from discussions that would change its intent of providing immediate disaster response funding without further legislative action.

Prior to the 2014 law establishing the disaster assistance account, the Legislature would need to convene every time a disaster was declared, often in a special session, to appropriate money toward response efforts.

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