Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Conservation bills in flux as 2006 session wraps up

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul – Supporters of dedicated funding still were crossing
their fingers Tuesday that a compromise deal would be reached to
send a constitutional question to the voters.

A 10-member conference committee met last week to begin
discussions about how to iron out the differences between dedicated
funding bills passed by the House and Senate.

The main issue is whether to take the dedication out of existing
taxes, or to raise taxes. The House would carve 3/16 of one percent
from the existing sales tax, while the Senate would raise the sales
tax by 3/8 of one percent.

Both bills would allocate the money to fish and wildlife, clean
water, parks and trails, and arts, but would divvy the money up in
different ways.

Though the conference committee – co-chaired by Rep. Tom
Hackbarth, R-Cedar, and Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples – met last
Wednesday, Hackbarth hadn’t scheduled a second meeting as of
Tuesday morning.

‘I’m not holding my breathe yet, but I’m still optimistic,’ said
Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative
Alliance. ‘This is the year it has to happen.’

Sams and Hackbarth apparently haven’t held substantive
discussions since last week’s meeting, when conferees looked at the
differences between the two bills and heard testimony from
supporters of the concept.

Hackbarth plans to meet with the various groups in the coming
days to discuss dedicated funding. Discussions at those meetings,
which likely will involve at least Sams from the Senate side, are
unlikely to center around the sales tax issue, but rather will
focus on items such as what a ballot question might look like,
according to Josh Gackle, administrator of the House Environment
and Natural Resources Committee, which Hackbarth chairs.

As both the House and Senate are sticking to their guns on their
versions of the bill, a creative compromise is needed, said Gary
Botzek of Minnesota Waters, the Minnesota Environmental
Partnership, and the Minnesota Conservation Federation.

‘We’ve got our best minds working on this,’ he said. ‘We’re just
hoping that somebody will pop out a good idea from outside the box
and catch some momentum. It’s going to take one good idea.’

The session is scheduled to adjourn on May 22 – and there’s been
talk it could end earlier – and Ness expects dedicated funding to
be around at the end.

‘It will be at the last hour of the last day,’ he said. ‘(In)
the last minutes of the session they’ll deal with this.’

In the meantime, Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director,
urged supporters to contact their legislators.

‘The supporters need to make sure they are contacting their
legislators early and often,’ Meier said. ‘It only takes contacts
from a handful of constituents to change someone’s mind.’

Clean Water Legacy

Proponents of a plan to clean the state’s lakes and rivers
scored a victory Monday when the Senate passed a supplemental
budget bill that included $20 million for the Clean Water Legacy
Act.

The act’s policy provisions passed the Senate last year – policy
language in the House, which passed out of the Rules Committee,
should be on the floor by the end of the week, said John Tuma of
MEP.

There’s been little argument that a clean-up plan is needed, but
legislators had been unable to agree on funding. That might be
changing.

In addition to the $20 million the Senate allocated to clean
water in its supplemental budget, that body also asked for $5
million in its bonding bill. The House has proposed using $12.5
million from the General Fund, and has about $17.5 million in its
bonding request for clean water.

‘Our message right now is to support the Senate General Fund
appropriation and the House bonding,’ which would total about $37.5
million to launch the program, Tuma said.

After the launch, money from dedicated funds – if it passes – or
the General Fund would be used to fund the program.

Bonding bill

Bonding conferees still were working to craft the bill, but as
of Tuesday morning tentatively had agreed to about $788 million in
spending, Tuma said.

It’s unclear how high the final bonding total might be, but the
Senate originally asked for $990 million; the House requested about
$950 million.

Funding for forestland conservation, the Conservation Reserve
Enhancement Program, and wildlife management areas so far have not
been agreed to.

‘That’s good (that legislators have agreed to some spending),
but it’s also a little risky because it tightens it up so there’s
only a couple hundred million (dollars) to fit everything into,’
Tuma said.

Game and Fish bill

After languishing in various committees for more than a month,
the Game and Fish Bill has reached the floor in both the House and
Senate.

Meier expected the bill to be heard on the House floor this
week.

Among the provisions in the House and Senate bills:

Both bills would change site-tagging requirements for big
game.

The Senate bill would alter the state’s shotgun zone.

The Senate bill would allow counties to offer a bounty for
taking coyotes by all legal methods.

Both the House and Senate bills would put in place a temporary
moratorium on the licensing or use of new public waters for
aquaculture.

The House bill would allow the use of snowmobiles and ATVs on
private land during legal shooting hours of the deer season.

The House bill would extend turkey hunting hours in the spring
until sunset.

Though neither the House nor Senate bill addresses them, Meier
expects the issue of cervidae farms to reappear on the floor as an
amendment to the bill. Bills earlier this session to ban so-called
shooting preserves didn’t progress in the House or Senate.

‘Cervidaes will be a big issue,’ Meier said. ‘If nothing gets
done this year, it will be too late.’

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