‘Big Three’ legislative issues still unresolved

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul – The regular session of the state Legislature ended
Monday – Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly called a special session – with
most issues considered important to sportsmen still unresolved.

Notable exceptions include passage of a law that protects
shooting ranges, and passage of an omnibus game and fish bill. Both
await Pawlenty’s signature.

However, none of the Big Three issues – dedicated funding,
Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources reform, and the Clean
Water Legacy Act – were passed. Still awaiting passage, too, is an
environmental finance bill that includes funding for agencies like
DNR and the Pollution Control Agency.

“It’s probably a little better than half full, from the
sportsman’s standpoint,” said John Schroers, president of the
Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance. “The big deals just aren’t
done yet.”

The Clean Water Legacy Act and LCMR reform both remain in play
in the special session, but dedicated funding proposals appear to
be dead for the year, Schroers said.

LCMR reform

Pawlenty in October proposed a plan to replace the 20-legislator
LCMR with a citizen’s panel that would decide how to parcel out
money from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The idea has been debated in both the House and Senate. A plan
to have 11 citizens – appointed by the governor, confirmed by the
Senate – dole out the money is in the House’s environmental finance
bill. The Senate’s finance bill doesn’t mention the proposed
Minnesota Conservation Heritage Council.

LCMR reform seems to be holding up passage of the finance bill,
said DNR Deputy Commissioner Mark Holsten.

“The trust fund rededication is probably the largest sticking
point,” Holsten said. “The conversation in the hallways was about
the trust fund and how to change it… That’s become a pretty big
issue.”

Schroers thinks change still is likely, but isn’t sure what form
it will take.

“Some kind of reform is going to occur,” he said. “Will it be
the governor’s hard line? That seems to be holding up the bill. As
of (Monday) night, all indications are he’s going to hold
tough.”

Clean Water Legacy

The Senate on Monday passed the Clean Water Legacy Act, a bill
intended to clean up the state’s rivers and lakes and bring them
into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

The Senate passed the cleanup policy language Monday; the
funding was passed in an earlier tax bill. Under that bill, the
cleanup program would be funded through tax increases. It would
fund the program at $31.5 million right away, and at $80 million in
2009.

Clean water advocates said it would take $80 million per year to
fully implement the clean water program.

Once the Clean Water Legacy Act passed out of the Senate, it was
directed to the House Tax Committee, where the House version has
languished. The House version of the bill would fund cleanup
through fees on improved property.

Clean-water proponents were buoyed by the bill’s passage in the
Senate.

“We feel that is a good signal that the Legislature will
consider this issue seriously in the special session,” said Anne
Hunt of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. “The Senate is
kind of challenging the House to come back with a
counteroffer.”

Dedicated funding

Schroers has watched as, year after year, a dedicated source of
funding for the environment and natural resources gets pushed on
the back burner.

“Wait again until next year,” he said. “Who are we, the Chicago
Cubs?”

There were indications this might be the year for passage –
Pawlenty and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson voiced their
support at the April 2 Ducks, Wetlands, and Clean Water Rally – but
the bill was tabled in the Senate shortly thereafter.

However, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville and chairman of the
Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, where the
Senate version was tabled, has promised a hearing early next
session.

Schroers said dedicated funding is well-positioned for next
year, and that proponents will be better organized.

“When we go testify, we are going to have everything
choreographed,” he said. “We need to get our arguments organized so
we can do some presentations, so we can answer the hard
questions.”

Environment finance

Among the major items still held up in the House and Senate
finance bills for the environment are LCMR reform, state agency
funding, and off-highway vehicle regulations.

The bills had been discussed in a conference committee, but not
passed.

“In all of their meetings they held, they were not talking
dollars,” Holsten said. “They were only talking language and policy
issues within the bill.”

Environmentalists decried funding levels for natural resources
when the bills were introduced, but it’s not clear exactly what the
hit to agencies like the DNR will be.

In his proposed budget, Pawlenty would decrease General Fund
dollars the DNR receives by about $6.3 million for the biennium.
DNR divisions such as Parks and Recreation and Forestry are funded
primarily through the General Fund.

“We can’t draw any conclusions on how they are looking to handle
our budget,” Holsten said. “We don’t have a good read on the impact
we would see.

“But we think the governor’s budget is the best we are going to
do,” he added.

Given that LCMR reform seems to be a major sticking point of
passing the finance bill, Hunt believes the environment may be
better served by holding that provision for next session.

“It’s not the number one priority for the environment this
session,” she said. “Getting the Clean Water Legacy passed and
getting more money for natural resource programs… are clearly our
higher priorities.”

Shooting range protection

One of the successes of the session was getting the Shooting
Range Protection Act passed, Schroers said.

The law affords shooting ranges protection if they comply with
certain noise standards. The bill allows shooting activities every
day between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Categories: Hunting News

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