2020 Legislative Session (updated with notes about COVID priorities)

A preface, thanks to folks with an ear on the ground at Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, in light of COVID-19 work being done at the Capitol:

"The Minnesota Legislature announced their approach to legislating in the midst of recommendations to limit the size of public gatherings and limit person-to-person transmission this morning. After taking immediate action on bills to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature plans to stop meeting regularly and focus on three "buckets" of work for the time being:

- Work related to the COVID-19 outbreak as needed and requested by Governor Walz
- Critical priorities for the session (such as a bonding bill)
- Issues where there is agreement by legislative leaders of both parties and Governor Walz"

Some issues that have been introduced below may fall into the third "bucket" of work. [...] It's possible that a special session will be called later this spring or early summer to address work left undone for now."


COVID-19 RESPONSE BILLS/ORDERS THAT HAVE BEEN PASSED

From MN Representative Hodan Hassan

"Emergency COVID-19 investment in health care system

We stayed up past midnight last night to pass SF 4334, providing $200 million in investments for the health care response fund and Minnesota’s public health response contingency account. Above all we have a duty to provide our health care system with everything it needs to get us through this safely. The bill provides $150 million to the Minnesota Department of Health to make grants to eligible providers for costs related to managing COVID-19. As a condition of accepting a grant, the provider must agree not to bill uninsured patients for the cost of COVID-19 screening, testing, or treatment. If a patient is out-of-network, the provider must agree to accept the median network rate as payment in full. The additional $50 million is appropriated to the public health response contingency account, which allows MDH to make flexible payments throughout our healthcare system where needed.

Governor signs orders temporarily closing certain public spaces & improving Minnesota’s unemployment insurance

Late yesterday, Gov. Walz signed Executive Order 20-04 to order the temporary closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars to dine-in customers. He also ordered the temporary closure of other places of public accommodation and amusement, including theaters, museums, fitness centers, and community clubs. Take-out and drive-thru options are still available.

Gov. Walz also signed Executive Order 20-05 to strengthen Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and ensure that workers who are not able to work as a result of COVID-19 have benefits available. Specifically, this Executive Order will waive the employer surcharge and allow the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to pay unemployment benefits immediately, providing fast relief to employees who need it. If your employment has been affected by COVID-19 please visit this site. Any other questions should be directed at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development at 651-259-7114, 800-657-3858 or www.mn.gov/deed."

 

Know someone who needs help more urgently than legislatures can/will pass things? Check out Community Resources here


BILLS TO CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS ABOUT

that have been introduced in the 2020 session

  • green means likely helpful/good
  • red means unhelpful/bad
  • orange means unclear in impact given our access to information on the issue
  • grey means helpful but listening only stage

Find your Minnesota Senator + House Representative here: https://www.leg.state.mn.us/

 


  • Community Access for Solar (see talking points + how to help to at the bottom of this page!)
    • SF 3213 , HF 3931 We have received strong guidance to focus on a letter/ phone calls rather than email/petitions. We recognize that this may result in a smaller number of people responding, but believe this will have a much bigger impact. It is crucial to maintain positive messaging and stick to the core points below as opposed to bashing the utilities, especially in many of the Republican districts that are key to getting this bill passed. We STRONGLY encourage people who wish to both support this bill AND oppose Clean Energy First to do so in SEPARATE letters/voicemails (not combine issues) as some of the key Republican allies on this bill are also advocates of Clean Energy First.
      • bill language by: Cooperative Energy Futures

  • "Clean Energy First"
    • SF 1456 passed by the Senate on Feb. 27, it now heads to the Senate Finance Committee and is expected to be passed onto the Senate floor. Clean Energy First would include sources that emit carbon to be considered “carbon free" and "clean energy" and tilts the scales toward utility ownership rather than community or individual ownership of new power generation, and allows utilities to recover costs through "riders" on customers’ bills without the full consideration that happens during general "rate case" increase requests.
    • HF 1405 The House Energy Committee plans to hear its version on March 3rd. The House and Senate are expected to pass their respective bills, which would set up a robust negotiation between the two bodies.
      • source: Citizens Utility Board, Sierra Club, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

  • Expansion of Income-Based Energy Efficiency for Gas Customers
    • SF 3386 -  A bill being heard in the Senate aims to substantially increase the state’s requirements for gas utility spending on energy efficiency programs that serve households who have gas heat and qualify for income-based assistance, including pre-weatherization measures. The bill doubles utilities’ minimum spending requirements for energy efficiency programs that serve under-resourced households and allows up to 15% of this spending to be used for pre-weatherization.
    • Public utilities are given an option to contribute to a “Healthy AIR Asbestos Insulation Remediation” program, and these funds can contribute toward a utility’s low-income spending requirements (through CIP, or the "Conservation Improvement Program). The Commerce Department is to set up a stakeholder group to review and update guidelines for the eligibility of multi-family buildings in low-income programs by July 1, 2021. A recent CIP Potential Study found that Minnesota utilities can do much more to meet the energy efficiency potential in under-resourced households over the next decade. The bill is to be heard next in the Finance Committee. 
      •  source: Energy CENTS driven, Citizens Utility Board is watching this bill
  • Energy Efficiency Grant-Making
    • HF 3426 introduced by Representative Patty Acomb - Grants for energy efficiency for residential + commercial, solar on schools, EVs for busses + residential, and much more
      • source: Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Sierra Club
  • Right to Repair
    • HF 1138 for electronics and farm equipment. From 2019 version of bill: Osmek was co-sponsor in 2019 because has repair businesses in his district. Includes all “smart” devices with embedded software (exceptions: consumer automobiles because national MOU that makes manufacturers agree already on Right to Repair; medical industry because they are powerful in MN and have refused it.    
      • source: Environment MN, Eureka Recycling, Junket, Re-Use MN, MN Farmer’s Union + TechDump
  • Conservation Improvement Program changes
    • NO BILL # BUT COMING SOON - "For more than a year, stakeholders have been trying to come together over language to modernize the Conservation Improvement Program mentioned above. The program continues to be successful in cost-effectively cutting energy waste. However, it could be improved by allowing consumers to switch from fossil fuels to electricity where it makes financial and environmental sense to do so. For instance, households that heat with propane can often save money and reduce emissions by installing an air source heat pump rather than a traditional air conditioner. Utilities have not been allowed to provide incentives for this kind of “fuel switching” under the Conservation Improvement Program, and a proposed reform to the program would make it possible."
      • source: Citizens Utility Board
  • Indigenous Sovereignty on Building Practices
    • HF 4229/SF 4232 This bill would provide a waiver process to State Building and Fire Codes for Indigenous building practices. This would allow Makoce Ikikcupi to continue building the earthlodges in Granite Falls on the parcel of land purchased. Establishing housing is a priority and without this legislative solution Makoce Ikikcupi is at risk of having $10,000 in fines for each violation, jail time if they persist, and the demolition of already built earthlodges.
      • source: Makoce Ikikcupi
  • Pollinators
    • HF1255 would require companies to post signage when using pesticides on lawns in towns and cities. The bill would also authorize cities to pass ordinances banning the use of pollinator-lethal pesticides included on a list published by the Commissioner of Agriculture. The bill was re-referred to the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division.
    •  HF 721 Fue Lee et. al would put into law the Dept. of Natural Resources current practice of banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in our state's publicly owned Wildlife Management Areas.
      • source: Sierra Club, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Bee Safe Yards
  • Air Quality
    • HF 2057, chief-authored by Representative Fue Lee (59A) would require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to hold public hearings for non-expiring air emission permits every five years to give the public a chance to comment on the impacts emissions have on livability on their communities. 
    • HF 3753, SF 3667 Minnesota Frontlines Community Protection Act chief-authored by Representative Kaohly Her (64A) would require the MN Pollution Control Agency to estimate and consider the cumulative effects of air pollution on certain neighborhoods for the whole state of MN, especially with higher proportions of residents who are indigenous, black or people of color that have historically borne the brunt of air pollution. This bill has passed through the climate committee on party lines. 
    • HF 3058, also chief authored by Representative Lee, would require that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency “estimate and consider” the cumulative effects of pollution on certain neighborhoods, especially areas with a high percentage of residents who are indigenous or of color, that have historically borne the brunt of air pollution. Both bills were re-referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance division.
      • source: newsletter of City of Minneapolis  
    • HF 3376, introduced by Rep. Ami Wazlawik, this bill offers a complete ban on TCE (trichloroethylene) a volatile organic compound and solvent used in a number of industrial processes that is a source of significant air and water pollution and also causes cancer.  
      • source: Minnesota Environmental Partnership
  • Incarceration
    • HF2858 and HF3156 "introduced by Chair Carlos Mariani’s (65B) these bills codify the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and provide funding through a constitutional amendment. House Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform heard testimony from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. Commission staff gave their report to the Committee, making their recommendation that felony sentences carry caps for probation at 5 years (with exceptions for specified homicide and criminal sexual conduct offenses). This cap includes the ability for judges to depart from the guidelines if there are “substantial and compelling reasons to do so.” 
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter 
  • Housing Health
    • HF 3003 "which would require the installation of automatic sprinkler systems in existing high-rise buildings, chief authored by Representative Mohamud Noor (60B). Testifying in support of the bill were both the former and current fire marshals, and family members of the victims from the November 2019 high-rise fire in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Committee members inquired about the logistics of retrofitting buildings with sprinkler systems. Connecting the bill to historical decisions to put off installing sprinkler systems, Representative Noor read the names of the victims, one by one, before saying, “If we would have had this legislation 25 years ago, we would not have been sitting here.” The bill was referred to the Housing Committee."
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter 
  • Ending Racial Discrimination in Workplace Based on Hairstyles 
    • HF3103, "authored by Rep. Rena Moran (65A), seeks to end discrimination based on natural hair styles was heard in the House Government Operations Committee on Thursday. It amends the Minnesota Human Rights act by adding a definition of race that “is inclusive of traits associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locks, and twists. Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Rebecca Lucero, noted that while race discrimination is already prohibited under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, “this bill provides the plain-language clarity to ensure that when we’re talking about race we’re including hairstyles inherent to racial identity.” The bill does not have a Senate companion. The bill was approved and passed to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division."
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter 
  • Lessening Punishment for Bus Fare + Transit Ambassadors
    • HF3085, "author Representative Tabke’s (55A), which proposes to lessen the punishment for fare evasion, making it more in-line with receiving a parking ticket, and create a transit ambassador program. Transit ambassadors would be unarmed, ride trains and buses to check fares, and be trained in de-escalation techniques. Ambassadors would also assist passengers who may be experiencing homelessness in accessing appropriate social services. Several transit advocates spoke in support of the bill and Metro Transit officials stated that the proposals are a way to enforce fares more fairly and for officers to be able to respond more quickly to more serious crimes. There was no action taken on HF3085, but Committee Chair Representative Hornstein (61A), stated there would be a full hearing and robust discussion in the coming weeks."
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter
  • Solar on New Roofs Mandate
    • NO BILL # YET LIKELY A LISTENING YEAR - small explanation
      • source: Environment MN
  • Rural Access Conservation Program 
    • NO BILL # YET LIKELY A LISTENING YEAR- "Citizens Utility Board is advocating for a conservation program that will ensure that everyone in the state, regardless of geography and energy source, can access the financial benefits of conservation. More than 15% of Minnesota households heat with propane, fuel oil, or wood — mainly in rural areas not served by natural gas utilities. There are no utility conservation rebates for these delivered fuels. At the same time, these households generally face higher heating bills because of the cost of the fuels. Their bills can be quite unpredictable, too, as the price of delivered fuels sometimes fluctuates greatly over the winter months. CUB has been working with stakeholders to design a Rural Access Conservation Program so that rural Minnesotans have the same opportunities for cost-effective energy conservation as their counterparts in larger cities."
      • source: Citizens Utility Board

BONDING / CAPITAL INVESTMENT:

2020 is a "Bonding Year," which historically means focus on investment in capital-intensive projects (e.g. school) rather than programming (e.g. school curriculum development). Governor Walz’s $2.599 billion bonding proposal can be viewed here, visualized through an interactive map of Minnesota.

Below is a quick, cherry-picked look at Twin Cities area capital investments that seem climate-justice related. ***NOTE: THESE ARE NOT APPROVED YET BY THE LEGISLATURE THEY ARE JUST ONES THAT ARE GOVERNOR RECOMMENDED OR DENIED***

Likely good recommendations for funding:

  • ENERGY: $30 million (out of $51.1 million requested) revolving loan fund for energy efficiency and renewables. This is the *only* item in the Energy Category
  • FLOOD HAZARD MITIGATION - $15 million for levees, bank stabilization + cultural corridor, raised roadways
  • RAIL GRADE SEPARATION: $110 million (100%) to reduce collisions on key intersections
  • GATEWAY BIKE TRAIL EXTENSION: $1.25 million (100%) requested by the city of Scandia
  • BUSWAYS: $55 million (100%) for capital improvements, design, enviro work, right of way acquisition, engineering, and construction for regional busways
  • COMPOST: $2 million (100%) for expansion of Brooklyn Center transfer station to accommodate more organics and sorting.

Likely disappointing recommendations to worsen climate justice issues:

  • AIRPORTS: $19.2 million (out of $76.8 requested) - small airports, plus the Rochester airport
  • HAZARDOUS WASTE: $4 million (100%) for new hazardous waste facility

Unclear (in impact) recommendations for investment in infrastructure with direct ties to climate: 

  • RURAL ROADWAYS: $100 million (100%) for rural roadway improvements
  • STORM WATER MANAGEMENT - $19 million (100%) requested by the City of Minneapolis for a 4 mile stretch of tunnel 
  • 26th AVE NORTH: $3 million (100%) - New overlook to the Mississippi River and access trail to the Grand Rounds bike trail
  • POLLUTION - $6 million (100% of what was requested) for Twin Cities remediation of superfund site (lots of other possible remediation statewide but it’s lumped into “land acquisition” category that would take awhile to parce out)
  • GRAND ROUNDS BIKE TRAIL COMPLETION: $12.3 million

 

 

Likely good denials of investments in "the old-way" type of infrastructure:

  • DENIED: PARKING CONTROLS ADDITIONS $0 granted out of $19.5 million requested for parking management systems on 27 parking facilities near the Capitol

Likely disappointing denials of funds for climate tools:

  • DENIED: DAKOTA COUNTY GREENWAY IMPROVEMENTS - $0 out of $22.7 million requested to acquire and construct regional greenway improvements to close trail gaps and increase commuter safety
  • DENIED: MATCHING FUNDS TO ADD ADDT’L AMTRAK SERVICE TO CHICAGO  - $0 out of $10 million requested by Ramsey County
  • DENIED: RAILWAY TO DULUTH FROM TWIN CITIES - $0 out of $31 million requested
  • DENIED: PRE-DESIGN/ DESIGN for RUSH LINE BUS RAPID TRANSIT - $0 out of $2.5 million requested, Ramsey County 

Unclear (in impact) denials of investment in infrastructure with direct ties to climate: 

  • DENIED: $1 BILLION IN ROAD CAPITAL INVESTMENT - Over $1 billion requested for roads and $0 approved. 
  • DENIED: RE-ROUTING POWERLINES UNDERGROUND - $750,000 requested by Steele County Fair - Electrical Project (fair as in County Fair, not fair as in just)
  • DENIED: SKYWAY UPGRADE FOR APPLE VALLEY TRANSIT STATION - $0 out of $2.6 million requested to upgrade buildings and skyway in the transit station

 

 

How to Support the Community Access Bill for Community Solar! 

Cooperative Energy Futures has just made a big step forward on state policy efforts to ensure that community members can receive adequate compensation for participating in new community solar gardens. Three State Senators (Author Jason Rarick - Republican from the Pine City, Hinckley, Cloquet area, Co-authors David Senjem - Republican from Rochester area, and Scott Dibble - Democrat from Minneapolis) have just introduced our legislation that would restore retail rate bill credit compensation to participants in future community solar gardens that are focused on residential and avoid income an credit discrimination. The bill is Senate File 3213 and has been referred to the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee. We expect to have a committee hearing on this bill by mid-March and feel like it has a reasonable likelihood of moving forward by the end of the legislative session in May. Passage of this bill would allow Cooperative Energy Futures to develop many more community-owned community solar gardens across the state and would help shift the community solar garden program as a whole towards a more equitable and community-centered approach. This issue is critical for the next phase of equitable clean energy in Minnesota and to building justice and community control into the clean energy transition.

We need your help:

We need clean energy supporters like you to contact your State Senator to urge support of Senate File 3213. We need public support twice this legislative session - in the next two weeks as this bill heads for a committee vote, and in early May when (if all goes well) it will be headed towards final approval. 

  1. Find your State Senator and their contact information by entering your street address and then clicking the "Contact" button next to your MN Senate official at:   https://www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/
  2. Write a letter (preferred) or make a phone call to their office (leave a message if no one picks up) using the talking points below. Evidence shows that a physical letter - handwritten if possible (typed is okay too) - followed by an office phone call is much more effective than an email to express your support for public policy issues.
  3. Notify CEF's Policy Director Pouya Najmaie (pouya@cooperativeenergyfutures.com) that you have sent your letter/ made a phone call. Include your name, preferred contact info, your MN Senate District/ State Senator you contacted, and whether you wrote a letter or made a call.

Some talking points you can include in a phone call or written letter:

  • Your name, city/neighborhood you live in, and identify yourself as their constituent
  • If you are a community solar subscriber, briefly explain why you were excited to subscribe, and why a community-focused, member-owned, and low-income accessible approach to community solar matters to you. If you have not been able to subscribe to community solar yet but would like to, share what has prevented you from subscribing and how this bill would help give you access.
  • Ask your Senator to support Senate File 3213.  If your Senator is already a co-author, thank them for supporting!  
  • Use any of the following reasons (or share your own) for why this bill matters:
    • We need to be developing more clean energy rapidly and in a way that all Minnesotans can benefit, including renters and those without the ability to invest upfront.
    • Over 85% of community solar capacity to date has served municipal, commercial, and industrial subscribers, not residents, and most developers serving residents to date have used credit scores to limit residential access to those with higher incomes. We need a community solar program that fairly compensates community residents for participating in clean energy and leaves nobody out.
    • Residential energy users pay higher energy costs than commercial customers, and in the early days of the community solar program, received higher compensation, which made it possible for developers like CEF to develop projects for residents. However. the switch in 2017 to Value of Solar, which reduced the compensation rate for projects proposed after that point, also flattened the compensation structure so that residents received the same bill credit as commercial customers. This reduced compensation by 25% for commercial customers, and a whopping 45% for residents. Commercial community solar has continued on strong since this change, but new residential projects have been nearly nonexistent. We need to restore compensation for residential customers without creating a windfall benefit for developers focused on commercial customers, which Senate File 3213 does by restoring the retail rate only for projects focused on residents without credit or income discrimination.
    • Share why you're excited about a project Cooperative Energy Futures has done, how you have been a part of it, and how it represented a way to do community solar that puts the community first and prioritizes local benefits. Push for this bill as a way to make these kinds of projects possible for thousands more Minnesota households in dozens of local communities.
  • If your Senator is a member of the Energy Utilities Finance and Policy Committee (link lists the 10 committee members), directly ask them to support the bill in an upcoming Committee Hearing and to request to co-author the bill by contacting Senator Jason Rarick.

A Bill for Community Access to Community Solar Gardens:

What the Bill Does: The bill amends Minnesota’s Community Solar Garden (CSG) law by:

  1. Defining some CSGs as community access projects if 50+% of their subscriptions serve residents and the garden operator commits to avoid credit or income discrimination, maintains a physical presence in Minnesota to address subscriber questions and concerns, and hosts at least one public event for subscribers per year.
  2. Requiring that utilities compensate subscribers of community access projects for the energy produced at the applicable retail rate (similar to when a person installs solar on their own home) and limits the size of application deposits that can be charged, making it easier for community-based groups to develop CSGs benefiting their communities
  3. Setting reporting requirements so that community access projects annually report how they enable subscriber input, share profits and other benefits with the community, and create low-income participation to maximize community benefits. This allows decision-makers and utilities to monitor the community benefits of these projects.

The bill does not change anything for CSGs that don’t meet the criteria of community access projects – they could still be developed with compensation based on the Value of Solar.

 

Why Community Access to CSGs is a Smart Move for Minnesota:

Community Solar Drives Local Economic Development: The CSG program has been a major driver of solar energy expansion in Minnesota, with over 500MW of solar installed and over $1 billion in private investment in the state since 2016. The state’s solar industry now employs over 4,600 Minnesotans, a number that has doubled since 2015.

Fairness for Those Who Can’t Do Solar Themselves: Residents and small businesses who can afford to install solar on their homes and businesses are compensated at the retail rate – in fact, Xcel customers can get an additional incentive of $0.06-$0.07/kWh for ten years above the retail rate for solar they install. Those that cannot install their own solar (including renters, those without solar-ready buildings, and those that cannot afford the upfront cost) should at least get retail rate if their peers who can afford to install their own solar get retail plus an incentive. 

Community Solar Should be For the Whole Community: The first few years of CSG development saw 90% of subscription benefits going to commercial customers, with developers using a high credit score requirement for the remaining 10% serving residents. Just like electricity, CSGs and the savings they create should be available to everyone. This bill supports CSGs that create access and allow participation for those who cannot go solar themselves.

Early Costs Have Been Addressed, but Access Remains a Challenge: The 2017 switch to use the Value of Solar (VOS) compensation rate resolved concerns that the CSG program was solely benefiting large corporate subscribers at the expense of other ratepayers. While VOS lowers compensation for big commercial subscribers to avoid unfair cost-burdens, the change also meant that residents get the same lower compensation rate, making it nearly impossible for residents, including renters and low-income families, to participate in CSGs. This bill restores the retail rate benefit for residents – but only for projects that create access for all.