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Conferees reach agreement on omnibus veterans, military affairs bill

Co-chairs of the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance bill conference committee, Sen. Nicole Mitchell and Rep. Jerry Newton, listen to a public testifier May 1. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Co-chairs of the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance bill conference committee, Sen. Nicole Mitchell and Rep. Jerry Newton, listen to a public testifier May 1. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

The House and Senate versions of the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance bill were just over $20,000 apart to begin with, so it didn’t take a conference committee long to reach agreement Monday on a final version of the bill.

The six conferees met for the first, and last, time spending less than an hour together as staff walked-through the agreed upon language and appropriations to HF1937*/SF2247 that amount to $378.68 million in net General Fund spending from fiscal years 2023-25 – an increase of $132.15 million.

That new spending includes $90.06 million for Department of Veterans Affairs and $39.14 million for the Department of Military Affairs.

[MORE: See the agreement spreadsheet]

Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), co-chair of the conference committee, said a lot of work was done over the weekend, and negotiations with the agencies and his counterpart, Sen. Nicole Mitchell (DFL-Woodbury), were successful.

“We did come together, [we] have come to an agreement,” Newton said, although he later added there will be another step in the process before the conference committee report is formally complete.

Conference Committee on HF1937 5/1/23

Because of differences in language involving grants to nonprofit organizations, which the House and Senate have been adding to most omnibus finance bills this session, the conference committee report will need to go to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Newton said the bodies do not yet know how they will reconcile the language, but the veterans report will “likely be the first test” since it contains appropriations to nonprofits. Once that’s done it is expected the conferees will be able to sign off on the committee’s report and not have to meet again.

Mitchell appreciates the collaborative work done on the agreement to make sure the funds go where they will do the most good.

“I look forward to moving [the report] along so that we can immediately get the funds to some of the places that need it,” she said.  

Don Kerr, executive director of the Department Military Affairs, thanked lawmakers for their work.

“We really think that we’re taking some steps that will improve readiness of the Minnesota National Guard and its ability to continue to serve the people of Minnesota,” he said.

Ben Johnson, legislative director for the Department of Veterans Affairs, shares those sentiments, but said the agency is concerned with one appropriation in the agreement – $14 million for design and construction of the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley.

Johnson said the department supports the museum, but is “concerned about funding that at the expense of programs that directly affect veterans in our homelessness program, among other places.”

Other new spending appropriations in the report include:

  • $33.23 million operating adjustment for the Veterans Affairs Department;
  • $20.06 million in operational funding for veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston that are due to open later this year;
  • $17.6 million to build an Army Combat Fitness Test Field House in Arden Hills for soldiers to train for tests they must pass to maintain physical readiness;
  • $15 million for service bonuses to post-9/11 veterans;
  • $7 million to increase supportive housing grants for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans; and
  • $3 million enlistment and retention bonuses.

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