Legislature approves disaster aid funding

State legislators met for a special session Monday to approve funding for areas, including the University, that were damaged by storms.

by Ricardo Romero

The Minnesota Legislature passed a $4.7 million disaster relief bill Monday during a special session. The bill allocates funding for areas damaged by severe storms, including the University of Minnesota.

The money will be distributed between 18 counties throughout the state, including Hennepin County, and comes out of surplus money from past disaster relief funds.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide an additional $13.5 million — triple the state’s portion of the disaster relief.

Most of the state’s money will be used for counties damaged by June storms and flooding. The remaining funds will go to southwestern areas affected by winter storms in April.

Democratic Farmer Labor Rep. Alice Hausman, who represents St. Paul, voiced opposition to the disaster relief system. She said it leaves out certain counties such as Ramsey that have damage, but not enough to qualify for aid.

Hausman’s was the sole “no” vote in both the Senate and the House.

“It’s a little bit standing up for my county, which didn’t qualify,” she said. “It’s a little bit of protest.”

Legislative leaders are open to altering the current system so in the future a special session would not be necessary to allocate funds for disaster aid, according to Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he doesn’t see a need to change the process.

 “Is it really a good thing to create a mechanism to allow us to spend money more quickly and more easily?” said Hann, “Maybe we ought to have a higher threshold for what we call a disaster.”

Numerous other bills were also introduced in the House and Senate on Monday. Most dealt with repealing taxes from the last legislative session in May.

None were passed due to an agreement between party leadership on both sides and Gov. Mark Dayton to exclusively discuss disaster relief during the special session.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Dakota County, admitted that though it was “unlikely” his bill would be officially considered, he still thought it was important to introduce it.

House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said it was likely tax repeals would be brought up in the next legislative session.

“To cut these taxes, we’re going have to find the money somewhere else. I don’t want to take it out of the investments we’ve made in education as an example,” he said. “It’s a matter of balancing all these priorities together.”