By Associated Press - Friday, April 24, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Top Minnesota lawmakers said Friday they’re developing contingency plans that would allow state agencies to more easily access emergency response dollars if the spread of avian influenza intensifies in the nation’s leading turkey producing state.

While stressing it’s a work in progress, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said they’re aiming to give Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration flexibility and access to special emergency accounts in case the crisis hitting poultry farms worsens after the Legislature adjourns next month.

Bakk said that could entail making the bird flu response eligible for disaster assistance normally associated with severe storms or flooding.

“We are trying to consider some options where the governor would have some mechanism to respond without having to call a special session,” Bakk said.

On Thursday, Dayton declared a state of emergency over the H5N2 avian flu pathogen, which will streamline Minnesota’s response.

While federal financial assistance will be available to farmers coping with the loss of flocks, the state has accumulated unexpected costs for the personnel, equipment and testing measures it has deployed in the flu fight.

The House agriculture budget bill is on hold while officials determine what money could be needed to contain the outbreak that has cost Minnesota’s turkey farms more than 2.7 million birds and one Minnesota egg farm about 175,000 hens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday confirmed three new H5N2 infections at Minnesota farms, without giving details.

“This thing is unfolding so fast that it’s really difficult to put your finger of where we’re at on any given day and how to address it,” Daudt said.

An initial $900,000 for bird-flu response awaits legislative action, but needs signoff from House and Senate negotiators before Dayton can sign a bill.

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