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House, Senate reach agreement on Legacy budget that includes Hmong cultural preservation

Rep. Leon Lillie and Sen. Foung Hawj concluded the final meeting of the Legacy conference committee with a handshake after an agreement was reached Friday. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)
Rep. Leon Lillie and Sen. Foung Hawj concluded the final meeting of the Legacy conference committee with a handshake after an agreement was reached Friday. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

Lt. Tong Vang. Capt. Xia Nou. Lt. Neng Xiong. Capt. Ganghis Khang.

Wanting to honor otherwise unrecognized veterans from the secret war in Laos, Rep. Ethan Cha (DFL-Woodbury) asked these four soldiers who are ineligible for veterans benefits to stand at a Friday conference committee.

As one of nine Hmong legislators, he is proud to have some of the suggested Legacy funding go toward protecting the history of his community, including $600,000 for Hmong cultural preservation, $450,000 for the Hmong plaza friendship garden, and $300,000 for the Hmong Cultural Center of Minnesota.

All are in the Legacy conference committee agreement to HF1999 that was approved via a voice vote. Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) and Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul) are the sponsors.

[MORE: View the agreement spreadsheet and side-by-side language]

Through a 2008 ballot initiative, voters ratified the Legacy amendment, which divides a 0.375% sales tax increase four ways: 33% to the Clean Water Fund; 33% to the Outdoor Heritage Fund; 19.75% to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and 14.25% to the Parks and Trails Fund.

Of the $818.75 million worth of spending in the omnibus package, two appropriations remain the same: $318.4 million to the Clean Water Fund and $171.79 million would go to the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The House accepted the Senate’s budget for the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of $191.95 million, and the Senate agreed to the House’s $136.61 million plan for the Parks and Trails Fund.

Overall, all House articles were adopted apart from some minor modifications. One such tweak includes the House matching the Senate’s $72.17 million to the State Arts Board for arts and art access initiatives, while dropping the House idea of $100,000 for free access days.

The State Arts Board would receive an additional $20.04 million for arts education, arts and cultural heritage and significant public art installations. The latter was a House-only provision.

Moreover, the House initially wanted to split children’s museum grants between those with an operating budget over and under $2 million. It is now a single grant program seeking to spend $2.2 million, a lower appropriation than either body proposed previously.

Additionally, the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul would receive $1 million, but other children’s museums the Senate had direct appropriations for would have to, instead, participate to the competitive grant process.

A provision to require a financial review of nonprofit grant recipients was dropped from both sides’ initial offer.

Not everyone was happy with the bill or the process, namely Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley). “We’re spending public dollars. We had no public hearings. … We didn’t see the language beforehand.”

Lillie said while some conference committees devote time to public testimony, many don’t and a lot of it is done behind the scenes.

Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater) seconded Backer’s other concern about approving something via an agreement sheet, not official bill language. The updated version of the language is not yet available and is expected to be finalized next week.


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