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Omnibus bill includes ‘cheeseburger’

Published (3/25/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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In spite of concerns about the legal reach of the “cheeseburger bill,” the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee voted 12-7 to approve the committee’s omnibus finance bill March 23. It now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The proposed policy, which is more formally called the “Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act,” would make food and beverage establishments immune to being sued if a customer became overweight from consuming too much food or drink. Sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), the provision is included in HF1039, the omnibus agriculture and rural development finance bill, sponsored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake).

“This bill underscores that people are responsible for their own actions, particularly where food is concerned. Legitimate lawsuits … are still allowed under this,” Urdahl said.

Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL-Murdock) said the provision deals with legal issues and does not belong in the agriculture bill. “It’s much more than it appears on its face,” Falk said. Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter) agreed, saying it sets a dangerous public policy that could have unintended consequences.

In another area of the bill, the committee approved an oral amendment to delete a proposed $400 re-inspection fee when those who distribute or store ammonia or anhydrous ammonia fertilizer have recurring or serious pollution violations. Hamilton said the Agriculture Department already has authority to recover inspection costs and he did not want the specified provision to be misconstrued as a new fee.

Morrow also successfully amended the bill to give a $100,000 grant in 2013 to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, located in St. Peter.

In total, the bill would appropriate $76.84 million from the General Fund — a 14 percent reduction from the forecasted base. Including all special funds and statutory appropriations, the bill would spend a total of $172.88 million.

The department’s first priority is the protection of the food supply, so the bill would increase funding to hire additional retail food handler inspectors to deal with a backlog of inspections. A progress report would be due to the Legislature by Feb. 1, 2013.

Section 13 of the bill would give county agricultural societies the ability to exchange property, in addition to selling or leasing land for fairgrounds. Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River) said the provision would simplify an exchange to expand a county fair property in her district.

Many of the funding proposals in the bill include the same appropriations recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton, such as completing more than $15 million in delinquent ethanol payments to qualified producers.

Areas where cuts are recommended include several grant programs, such as the Dairy Development and Profitability Enhancement Program, which uses a regional team approach to helping local farmers improve their profit margin. There are waiting lists for the business planning grants, according to David Weinand, project consultant with the department’s Agriculture Marketing and Development Division. He said the dairy profit teams resulted in the addition of 839 new cows in Minnesota and created 16 new jobs in the dairy industry.

Hamilton said he hoped to preserve as much funding for agriculture literacy programs as possible because he deems such education important.

A companion bill, SF839, sponsored by Sen. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton), awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economies Committee.

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