Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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MN: Little resolution as Capitol clock ticks

St. Paul – With fewer than two weeks to go in the current
legislative session, everything from the DNR’s budget to game and
fish policy items to new rules pertaining to aquatic invasive
species remains in limbo.

The regular session ends at midnight on May 23. While there have
been whispers of a special session, Gov. Mark Dayton likely only
would call lawmakers back to deal with the state budget.

That leaves fewer than 14 days to complete a wide range of
outdoors-related policy matters.

“There’s still some hope for some of our environment and
conservation items,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the
Minnesota Conservation Federation. “But there’s a lot on the line
here the last two weeks.”

There are four main pieces of legislation awaiting closure.

A conference committee has met several times to discuss an
environment finance bill, but there are significant differences
between the House and Senate versions. As of earlier this week, it
didn’t appear that conference committee was close to hashing out
the bills.

While the budget numbers for agencies like the DNR and Board of
Water and Soil Resources are different in both bills (HF 1010, SF
1029), the Senate bill contains several policy provisions that are
either in the House Game and Fish bill, or not in any House
bill.

The Senate environment finance bill, for example, would cap at 90
the number of lakes with special northern pike regulations. The
House Game and Fish bill would cap it at 60.

The Senate bill also would allow scopes on muzzleloaders. The House
has no such provision, but would allow fishermen in specific
instances to fish with two lines in open water. The Senate does not
have that provision, nor would it rescind the deer regulations in
Zone 3, as the House would.

It remains unclear how the House and Senate will deal with the
differences in their finance bills, but “we’re still optimistic it
could be passed within the next two weeks,” Botzek said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe, though, since Gov. Dayton
could veto it if he didn’t agree with the numbers in it.

While lawmakers at some point will have to pass a budget – perhaps
during a special session – if any of the policy bills aren’t passed
by the time the Legislature adjourns, they probably wouldn’t be
taken up in a special session.

And even if the Legislature approves them, Dayton could veto them
and leave their future in doubt. Last year, for example, then-Gov.
Tim Pawlenty vetoed the Game and Fish bill and lawmakers did not
have time to address his concerns, so the bill was left
behind.

For that reason, much of this year’s Game and Fish bills – SF 943
and HF 984 – is the same as last year’s. But as of earlier this
week, neither of those bills had been heard on the floor in their
respective bodies.

The same is true for the bills that spend money generated by the
Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (SF 1363 and HF 1061).
Included in those bills are the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams
Outdoor Heritage Council.

“There is strong support in both the House and Senate for the
Outdoor Heritage Fund (projects),” said Bob Meier, DNR legislative
affairs director.

But there is a key difference between the two bodies: The House
would use some of the amendment money for payments in lieu of
taxes. The Senate does not have that provision, and there is little
indication the idea will receive a warm reception there.

The DNR is “concerned about using those funds, and the
constitutionality of using those funds, for payments in lieu of
taxes,” Meier said.

Other items

As of earlier this week, neither of the bills that would increase
hunting and fishing license fees – as the DNR is proposing – had
been heard yet. Still, they could be part of a larger agreement at
the end of the session.

Supporters continue pushing for the increase, arguing in part that
fees people pay for licenses are different than tax increases,
which the Republican majority has opposed.

“A fee is not compulsory,” said Garry Leaf, of Sportsmen for
Change. “You don’t have to go hunting or fishing in
Minnesota.”

As the bills still in play make their way to the House and Senate
floors, Leaf and others are watching carefully any efforts to
curtail public land acquisition.

While anti-public land lawmakers have been quieter in recent weeks
than they were earlier in the session – and their bills designed to
limit acquisition haven’t gone anywhere – their sentiment against
new public land “is still very vibrant,” Leaf said.

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