Minnesota Senate: Let’s fill in some public waters!
Sometimes, not everything is as it seems. Take the Legislature, for example.
Since state voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008, there have been efforts – to varying degrees – to circumvent the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which makes spending recommendations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Lawmakers mostly haven’t come right out and said they want to get rid of it, but they go about it in other ways. (See the changes Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is trying to make to the council and its recommendations. She and others don’t hold up a sign announcing their intent, but they seek to undermine and weaken the council in other ways, thereby giving complete control to the Legislature (which it already has, by the way. Some lawmakers just don’t like those pesky citizens who pay really close attention to what politicians do with public dollars).
The Senate finance bill that funds agencies like the DNR and Board of Water and Soil Resources contains the latest example.
One part of the bill could be titled “An Act to Fill Minnesota’s Public Waters to Your Heart’s Content.” But that would be too obvious. So instead, there’s a small section in the middle of the 241-page bill that repeals certain rules. It doesn’t mention the specific rules in the bill, just these long numbers.
But if the bill goes to the governor as-is, anybody, essentially, would be allowed to fill in public waters. Of course, the bill doesn’t come right out and say that, either. Instead, people would still have to get permits from the DNR to place fill in public waters. What the bill would do is eliminate the criteria the DNR uses when it evaluates permit requests to fill public waters.
So guess what? The DNR still could decline to issue a permit. But then the applicant could contest the denial, and the case could go before an administrative law judge. The judge would look at state rules and statute and determine if the DNR acted properly in refusing the permit. But since that tiny provision in the big bill would gut the criteria the DNR was to use in making its decision, the judge really would have no choice but to rule in favor of the permit applicant.
So even if most people agree with the DNR that filling in public waters is, in most cases, really bad natural resources management, that’s not really the kind of stuff on which legal decisions turn.
All in all, it’s probably not a good idea to give people what amounts to carte blanche to fill in public waters.
Oh, the Legislature will never pass something so ridiculous, you say? Well, the Senate’s already voted in favor of the bill and passed it. The provision will have to be included in the bill a House-Senate conference committee, and the entire bill still needs to be signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. So even if you think it would never make it that far, weirder things have happened.