Posted at 10:55 PM on May 13, 2008
by Tim Nelson
There's only a few days left of the legislature, and the discussion got right down to the toilet on Tuesday.
An hour and a half of debate on the bill preventing Minnesota from complying with Real ID was followed by 20 minutes of Senate debate on Minnesota's plumbing code - or rather, urinals and sewer gas.
Republican Claire Robling of Jordan offered an amendment to a plumbing regulation bill, authorizing the state's plumbing regulators to legalize "air admittance valves," a substitute for the stack pipe that vents sewer gas out through a building's roof.
Advocates contend it's a cheaper and easier alternative to traditional plumbing.
Those are currently illegal in Minnesota, for now the only state in the country that prohibits flushless urinals. The law currently says they gotta have a water supply, like the model at right, which may not be long for its historic place in the Capitol basement.
"It's all about the plumbing unions," Robling said in an interview after her amendment failed. She said the two fixtures would save labor, or at least installing venting and water lines, for new construction and repairs.
DFLers in both houses have decided to make waterless urinals legal, citing the potential environmental benefits. The fixtures are thought to have the potential to save countless gallons of fresh water annually.
But the air admittance valves? Not so much.
Senate DFLers said Minnesota's sewer gases should keep going through the roof.
Senator Sandy Pappas, of St. Paul, said the valves aren't reliable enough to protect Minnesotans from a whole menagerie of bad bugs, like salmonella and the like.
"They also were a problem after Hurricane Katrina," Pappas told her colleagues. "because these mechanical devices failed, allowing sewer gases into living quarters. These devices have not been thoroughly vetted, thoroughly tested. There's a reason they're prohibited by state law."
Maybe there's only so much plumbing innovation Minnesota can handle at once.