Pay attention to the House Legacy Committee

Joe AlbertPhyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis and the chair of the House Legacy Committee, earlier this week unveiled her proposal to amend the bill that carries the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The committee website is here and the relevant document is under the Friday, April 5 meeting. It’s called HF 207 DE 1.

If you’ve got some time tomorrow (Thursday), the committee is meeting at 12:30 p.m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building. A vote on the bill is set to occur during a hearing scheduled for noon on Friday in Room 200 of the State Office Building.

There’s been talk in other legislative sessions about making changes to the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. But the bill always has made it through the legislative process relatively unscathed. That wouldn’t be the case this time around.

While Kahn’s amendment retains the projects recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, it also funds a variety of other projects that the council did not recommend (buying land within the borders of the Fond du Lac reservation and spending $6.4 million in metro parks, for example), and never heard (a number of projects aimed at halting the spread of invasive species, for example).

But perhaps most worrisome is that it A) Requires the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to make recommendations on a biannual basis, instead of an annual basis, and B) Spends $68 million next year on projects for which the Lessard council had no input. The latter, essentially, removes the council from the process of spending Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars. Kahn says the move to a biannual process will make everything easier (many of the groups that receive money would say otherwise), and says the $68 million her bill spends next year is simply projects the Lessard council has already recommended. Maybe so, but there’s a huge amount of concern that her actions are simply the first in a series of steps designed to diminish the influence of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, or eliminate it altogether.

The council currently wields great influence, as it should. And there’s a belief in some legislative quarters that that is problematic, and that lawmakers should have full control of the Outdoor Heritage Fund money (which they already do, since the Lessard council is simply an advisory group). But you know what happens if the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council is pushed to the sidelines, or eliminated outright? We go right back to where we were a decade ago. Legislators were in control and were responsible for divvying up the money. Too little was going to conservation and natural resources, so smart and fed up people decided it was time to constitutionally dedicate money to those areas so lawmakers couldn’t keep shortchanging the things we care about.

Beware of efforts currently under way to go back to the way things used to be, or to fix things that aren't broken.

Categories: Joe Albert

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