Lawmakers consider funding council

St. Paul – The idea has yet to gain traction in the House, but a
citizen-legislator council to advise lawmakers on spending for fish
and wildlife habitat still is making headway in the Senate.

The 10-citizen, six-legislator council would recommend to the
Legislature how it should spend about $91 million per year of the
constitutionally dedicated funds, should voters approve of that
measure this fall.

The Senate approved the plan two weeks ago as part of its
supplemental budget bill. Senate and House members, as of earlier
this week, still were hashing out that bill in conference

But the eggs aren’t all in one basket. The original council
bill, SF 3488, cleared the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday. It’s
also included in an omnibus environmental policy bill, SF 3385,
that was to be heard the same day in the Energy, Environment and
Natural Resources Budget Division.

The House version, in HF 3935, hasn’t had a hearing. Rep. Frank
Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who authored the bill (it has 23 co-authors; nine
Democrats and 14 Republicans), said a hearing in that body was
unlikely, but he held out hope that a conference committee could
resolve the matter.

Moe and others who support the idea are working to strike a
compromise that members of the House who oppose the idea can live

“We’re not quite there yet,” Moe said. “But there is still a
significant chance we’ll be able to do something this year.”

Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance officials and others were
planning to meet with House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher on
Tuesday afternoon and present a letter signed by a wide variety of
groups. Other legislative leaders will receive the letter, too,
MOHA President Don McMillan said.

The idea is “to show there are a lot of people and organizations
behind the council,” he said. “I’m not sure if the Speaker realizes
that’s the case.”

As conceived of in the bills, the 16-member council would advise
the Legislature on spending of dedicated fishing and wildlife
habitat funds. The bills specify that 20 percent of the money be
spent to conserve private forest land, and 20 percent be used for
matching grants to local sporting and wildlife conservation

Anderson Kelliher, who noted that she’s been a supporter and
author of dedicated funding since she got to the Legislature, said
there have been a lot of internal discussions in the House about
the citizens council.

“I think there’s an opportunity to work through these issues yet
this session,” she said.

House members have a variety of concerns about the council
concept, she said, but added that “we are very interested in making
sure the amendment passes” at the polls in November.

In Tuesday’s meeting with MOHA and others, Anderson Kelliher
wanted to learn more about why supporters believe so strongly in
the council and how important it is to sportsmen, and “see what we
can work out to accommodate some of the concerns that exist about
the current proposal,” she said. “The answer isn’t ‘absolutely not’
or anything like that. There are concerns, and I think those
concerns can be addressed.”

Other items

The supplemental budget bill, which seeks to plug the state’s
budget deficit and will affect agencies like the DNR, is one of the
Legislature’s main priorities, and it’s possible that lawmakers
could put together a second bonding bill.

While it was left out of the first bonding bill and negotiations
with the landowner haven’t been finalized, a state park along the
shores of Lake Vermilion still is a possibility, said Bob Meier,
DNR assistant commissioner.

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