By Dean Urdahl
District 18B, State Representative
Agricultural and environmental issues are two issues I work very closely with here at the Capitol. I care about these issues because they lie so close to the heart of our state’s heritage and they need to be preserved and enhanced to the best of our abilities. I would like to take a few moments this week to mention the highlights of the agriculture and environment finance bills the House passed.
The House Omnibus Agriculture Bill fully funds Governor Pawlenty’s $85.8 million spending request and makes no budgetary cuts. The bill funds $18.7 million for ethanol in 2006 and another $13.5 million in 2007, much of which I helped include in the bill. Along with the landmark ethanol bill signed into law earlier this month, we will make Minnesota the “Middle East of ethanol.” Expanding this and other renewable fuels will only serve to benefit the agricultural economy and the American economy in general.
I also finally saw the adoption of what is now commonly called “the cheeseburger bill” to encourage personal responsibility. The bill would prohibit someone from suing a restaurant or food manufacturer over obesity or obesity related conditions that are the result of eating an unhealthy product. I think this will go a long way to restoring our society’s sense of personal responsibility, but it still allows for consumer protections. For example, you still could sue a manufacturer if they show neglect. The cheeseburger bill strikes a good balance and I’m glad to see it pass the House after two years of effort.
Another provision I authored provides $295,000 for increased pesticides monitoring in groundwater and surface waters throughout the state. The agriculture bill also adds funding to the Rural Finance Authority, the Board of Animal Health and provides a $50,000 grant to Second Harvest Heartland to purchase milk for distribution at state food shelves and other charitable organizations.
The biggest environmental reform in the House Omnibus Environment Bill is merging the Pollution Control Agency and the Office of Environmental Assistance to form the Department of Environmental Protection. The governor supports this initiative and I believe it will have a positive impact on our environmental efforts. We make another reform in replacing the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources with the Minnesota Conservation Heritage Council. The council will be comprised of citizen members who demonstrate experience and expertise in the science or policy of environmental and natural resources.
The omnibus bill funds several environmental projects including wildlife habitat improvement, carp control initiatives, state and metro regional park development, water monitoring, manure digesters and children’s pesticide exposure reduction. The bill also funds the Minnesota Conservation Corps at $700,000 for the biennium to engage youth and young adults in enhancing natural resources.
As I write, both House bills are in conference committee with their Senate companions. By the time this article is published, there is a good chance their differences will have been reconciled. I will keep you notified of any changes to what I outlined above through my weekly email update and future news columns. For the latest news, visit the official House website, www.house.mn.