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Wide gulf to bridge in jobs, energy and commerce conference committee

Rep. Mohamud Noor and Sen. Eric Pratt confer during the first meeting of the omnibus jobs, energy and commerce policy and supplemental appropriations conference committee May 12. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)
Rep. Mohamud Noor and Sen. Eric Pratt confer during the first meeting of the omnibus jobs, energy and commerce policy and supplemental appropriations conference committee May 12. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

When the House and Senate agreed to combine four omnibus bills into one, the funding gap in the resultant legislation grew and grew.

Few conference committees are entrusted with bridging a more expansive canyon in funding priorities than the one negotiating the differences between the omnibus jobs, energy and commerce bills. HF4355/SF4091*, sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), has $524.5 million worth of difference in supplemental appropriations for the current biennium between the House and Senate versions.

On Thursday, the conference committee held its first meeting, where nonpartisan staff walked through the many differences and few similarities between the two bills. The House bill contains $537.7 million in appropriations for the current biennium in the four areas within their bill’s bailiwick, compared to $13.2 million in the Senate bill.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]


Workforce and business development

This is the area where the differences between the two bills are most pronounced. The House version would put $397.6 million into workforce and business development, while the Senate bill contains only $50,000 in appropriations from a workforce development fund. The House bill contains $28.9 million in appropriations from that same fund.

Of the House appropriations, $161.7 million would establish a fund for school districts to pay unemployment benefits to hourly school workers such as bus drivers. The House bill also includes:

  • $45 million for a small business loan program;
  • $35 million for grants to small businesses recovering from COVID-19;
  • $32 million for a state-administered paid family leave program;
  • $25.2 million for a targeted community capital program;
  • $20 million for an emerging developer program;
  • $20 million for a “Main Street” economic revitalization program; and
  • $20 million for workforce development boards.

Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would allow private insurance companies to offer paid family leave to businesses.

[MORE: View policy differences in the two bills]


Climate and energy

For the current biennium, the House would appropriate approximately 10 times more funding in the areas of energy and climate change mitigation than would the Senate: $120.2 million in the House bill, $12.7 million in the Senate bill, which is, by far, the Senate’s largest outlay in any of the bill’s four subject areas.

Some programs are funded in both bills, but at different levels. The Senate would put $4.1 million toward the Solar for Schools program, compared to $3 million in the House bill, and would apportion $3.5 million of the Renewable Development Account to community energy transition grants, while the House bill has $2 million in General Fund spending for that purpose.

Appropriations that passed the House, but aren’t in the Senate bill include:

  • $30 million for a weatherization assistance program;
  • $20 million for a competitiveness fund designed to unlock federal monies available via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act;
  • $11.1 million to support the use of electric vehicles in the state; and
  • $10 million to fund an innovative finance authority supporting renewable energy startups.

Both bills have a solar energy production incentive program, while the House bill also includes a storage rewards program modeled after it.

[MORE: View climate and energy appropriations and policy differences]


Labor and industry

The House bill would allocate $10.8 million in this area, while the Senate bill contains $450,000 in appropriations. The only program funded in both bills is a youth skills training program that would receive $500,000 in the House bill, $25,000 in the Senate bill. The largest appropriation in the Senate bill is $175,000 for a police, firefighter and state trooper benefit study.

Among the items funded in the House bill, but absent from the Senate bill are:

  • $2.8 million for a building and trade license fee holiday;
  • $1.8 million for prevailing wage education and compliance;
  • $1.7 million for earned sick and safe time; and
  • $1.1 million for labor education and advancement program grants designed to increase equity in apprenticeship.

The Senate would require nonprofits receiving grants report to the Legislature administrative expenses and the number and wages of highly compensated employees; move more workforce development funds to a pay-for-performance model; and require the Department of Employment and Economic Development report to the Legislature unemployment insurance overpayments.

[MORE: View labor and industry policy differences]


Commerce and consumer protection

The House bill contains $9.1 million in appropriations in the areas of commerce and consumer protection, while the Senate bill contains no funding in this area. The largest allocations in the House bill would be:

  • $4.1 million for an automobile theft prevention program;
  • $870,000 for five additional insurance fraud prevention officers; and
  • $783,000 for financial institutions assessment equity.

The House version would bar social media companies from using algorithms to target content to children; set up a student loan advocate to review complaints from borrowers and create a student loan education course; and prohibit the purchase of used catalytic converters by anyone other than registered scrap metal dealers.

[MORE: View commerce and consumer protection appropriations and policy differences]


— Session Daily writer Margaret Stevens contributed to this story.

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