Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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MN: Funding bills on agenda at Capitol

St. Paul – House and Senate committees were busy earlier this
week assembling and, likely, approving bills that appropriate money
generated by the Legacy Amendment.

Both bills will include all four pots of Legacy money – habitat,
clean water, parks and trails, and arts and culture.

The Senate bill was slated to be unveiled Thursday afternoon in the
Environment and Natural Resources Committee. In the House, the
Legacy Funding Division was assembling its bill – HF 1061 – and was
slated to pass it on Wednesday.

The omnibus bill will include the recommendations of the
Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, though that portion of the
bill also includes several other provisions.

Among them: that the four legislative members serve at the pleasure
of the appointing authority. The bill also contains a provision
creating an “outdoor heritage land management account.”

Such an account has been a source of debate during the current
legislative session. The bill specifies that certain amounts of
dollars appropriated to acquisition projects go to the land
management account “to pay for future restoration and enhancement
of land purchased in fee with monies from the Outdoor Heritage Fund
and held by the state, and to reimburse the General Fund for”
payments in lieu of taxes to local government entities.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, has pushed the land management
account, saying it’s necessary if the House is to approve new
acquisitions. Anti-public land sentiment has been high in the
House, and McNamara says the account will assuage the concerns of
those who say the state can’t afford to manage the land it already
owns.

There’s no similar measure in the Senate, and Bill Ingebrigtsen,
R-Alexandria, who is carrying the Legacy bill in that body, has not
supported the concept.

The account – specifically, the PILT provisions – is of concern,
said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation
Federation.

“Our biggest concern remains the PILT payments,” he said. “We feel
it is a terrible precedent to start paying PILT payments out of
Legacy funds … If we need to find another source to address PILT
payments, we will.”

Though public lands have been under a microscope, the House and
Senate versions of the bill likely will include all of the
acquisition recommendations the Lessard-Sams council made.

The House bill also would change the make-up of the Clean Water
Council, which has been in place since the Clean Water Legacy Act
was signed. Among the proposed changes is to add two members of the
House and two members of the Senate to the council, as non-voting
members.

The council would recommend to the governor and Legislature how
money from the Clean Water Fund should be spent. Its
recommendations must “be to protect, enhance, and restore water
quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and to protect groundwater
from degradation and ensure that at least five percent of the Clean
Water Fund is spent only to protect drinking water sources.”

In the Senate, Ingebrigtsen was proposing to do away with the
current Clean Water Council and replace it with a 12-member council
– four legislators and eight citizens – that would operate like the
Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. It’s unclear if his proposed
changes will be part of the Legacy bill that advances in the
Senate.

Botzek doesn’t believe this is the year to make wholesale changes
to the water council. He said there needs to be more stakeholder
involvement before sweeping changes are made.

“This is not the year to do that,” Botzek said. “There is time to
work on it this summer and next year.”

Rules moratorium

There are bills in both the House and Senate to enact a moratorium
on “rules related to water quality or water resource protection
during the two-year period beginning July 1, 2011, and ending June
30, 2013.”

While that language remains in the Senate, a House committee on
Monday made sweeping changes to the bill, including reducing the
moratorium to one year and exempting certain rules – like DNR
shoreland rules.

The House bill also says: “The commissioner of administration shall
evaluate state and local water-related programs, policies, and
permits to make recommendations for cost savings, increased
productivity, and the elimination of duplication among public
agencies.”

Botzek said the changes are an improvement, and a sign of
moderation.

“It’s kind of been the strategy (of some legislators) to throw some
pretty heavy paint at the wall and see what sticks,” he said. We’re
“trying to ratchet some of these things to a more acceptable level.
If we aren’t going to stop them we need to make them as
(unoffensive) as possible.”

Upcoming

The Game and Fish Bill in the House – HF 984 – had been on the
floor, but was re-referred to the Ways and Means Committee. The
Senate bill – SF 943 – was slated to be heard Wednesday in the
Committee on State Government Innovation and Veterans.

Members of the conference committee to hash out differences between
the House and Senate environment finance bills have been named, but
as of earlier this week it wasn’t clear when the committee would
meet for the first time.

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