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Legislative Wrap Up

by | Jul 1, 2024 | Advocacy | 0 comments

The 2024 legislative session adjourned in complete chaos at midnight on Sunday, May 19. Democrats, who control the House, Senate and Governor’s office, rushed to pass their legislative agenda before the constitutional deadline over Republican objections.

For cooperative member-owners, the session was mostly a success with no new costly mandates, the passage of a bipartisan permitting reform bill and an expansion of scholarship eligibility for students interested in an energy career. Nonetheless, the inability of the legislature to agree on a tax bill that includes common sense property tax relief for cooperative member-owners remains a disappointment.

Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act
The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act was a bipartisan clean energy permitting reform package that incorporated various ideas with widespread support from energy stakeholders. The package will make the electric sector permitting faster and more cost-effective. This bill was a high priority for many stakeholders, especially clean energy advocates, who consider permitting reform critical to building the wind and solar generation and transmission infrastructure needed to achieve carbon-free by 2040. The legislation should help save member-owners money while accelerating the construction of necessary infrastructure to improve reliability during the transition to cleaner energy.

No New Mandates
One of the top priorities of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA), the statewide association representing electric cooperative member-owners, was ensuring no new mandates were imposed on electric cooperatives this session. Several bills, including distributed generation mandates, interconnection mandates and a cooperative governance mandate, were introduced or carried over from last year. However, none of these bills moved forward or passed thanks in part to MREA’s work and the work of member-owners advocating for their cooperatives. Cooperatives are governed by the members they serve, and heavy-handed government mandates only work to raise costs, undermine local democracy and add layers of unhelpful bureaucracy. We are grateful to legislators in both parties who stood up and said “no” to additional mandates.

Workforce Development Scholarships
MREA’s proposal to add “energy” to the list of industries eligible for workforce development scholarships at Minnesota state colleges and universities passed as part of the final Higher Education bill and could mean more aid to students looking to join our industry.

The Workforce Development Scholarship Program provides aid of $2,500 per academic year ($1,250 per semester) for students enrolled in programs in nine select industries and is now available to those in lineworker education. This program is available at all Minnesota state schools but is geared toward full-time, two-year associate degree programs. It is especially valuable to students because it has more expansive uses than other forms of financial aid, is provided in addition to other scholarship and grant opportunities and does not have an income limit. Because other types of state aid go only to low-income students and max out before paying for the full cost of attendance, this scholarship can often close the gap between a student’s full cost and other aid.

Cooperatives can now work with their local Minnesota state schools to set up a matching scholarship for students who choose to study an energy-related field. The law sets aside 10% of the funding for this program every year to increase awards at colleges that successfully develop local business partnerships and receive matching scholarship dollars from those businesses. This program is a great opportunity to develop our future workforce while helping local students afford college.

Property Tax Relief
MREA’s bipartisan property tax clarification bill did not pass, as no final tax bill was agreed upon before the closing moments of the session when a monster omnibus bill was pieced together. The provision was a priority in Governor Walz’s supplemental budget as well as the House and Senate Omnibus Tax bills and faced no opposition. The bill would have provided property tax relief to cooperatives by clarifying existing property tax law. The bill remains a priority for cooperatives across the state and will hopefully pass next session. In the meantime, the MREA is working with the Minnesota Department of Revenue to help alleviate the problem until a permanent solution is signed into law.

Despite the challenges and last-minute chaos, the 2024 legislative session brought several positive outcomes for Minnesota’s electric cooperative member-owners. The passage of crucial permitting reforms, the prevention of new costly mandates and the expansion of workforce development scholarships are significant wins. However, the lack of progress on property tax relief remains a key issue that we will continue to address in future sessions. The Minnesota Rural Electric Association, alongside
member cooperatives, remains committed to advocating for policies that support the affordability, reliability and sustainability of our energy infrastructure. As we move forward, we will keep working tirelessly to ensure that the voices of cooperative members are heard and their needs met.