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Legislative update (4-27-18)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Neighbor,

There seems to be some confusion and/or misinformation floating around regarding a bill the House passed this week to improve our methods of protecting Minnesota’s natural wild rice beds and water resources.

This bipartisan bill that was approved directs both the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources to refocus their efforts on protecting, enhancing and, where appropriate, restoring natural wild rice beds in Minnesota.

The plain fact is our state has a 1973 water quality standard in place that was based on sketchy information from 1930s-40s field observations, has offered no real protection for wild rice in Minnesota waters and, if applied today, would create millions of dollars in unwarranted costs to rural municipal waste water treatment plants across Minnesota.

While the 10 mg/L sulfate standard is in place, current field research shows natural wild rice growing in waters with sulfate levels in the hundreds of mg/L, and current lab research shows wild rice is not affected by sulfate until levels reach at least 1600 mg/L.

The MPCA has been working for almost eight years to replace this obsolete, 45-year-old standard, only to come up with a proposal so flawed it was rejected by the Administrative Law Judge overseeing the administrative rule making process.

The MPCA then appealed that decision and the judge again rejected the MCPA’s proposed rule, saying that “It is not difficult to understand how the public questions whether a standard that is unknowable until sufficiently sampled and calculated over a period of 10 years, which consists of an equation with mathematical terms that continue to evolve even before adoption, can constitute a rule by which their actions can be regulated.”

While some skewing of the facts is occurring with this bill, the real mission is to actually develop a workable standard. I want to emphasize the bill we passed does not signal the end of a discussion on wild rice beds and/or our water resources. In fact, the complete opposite is true in that we will be able to finally develop a workable standard, while also improving the Department of Natural Resources’ efforts on protecting, enhancing, and restoring natural wild rice in Minnesota.

Scientific advances have occurred in the last 80 years or so and it would serve us well to take modern information into account. It is unacceptable to have a standard in place that is clearly obsolete and contrary to modern science.

Interestingly, the MPCA announced on Thursday it is withdrawing its rule from the rulemaking process, so we’ll see how that paves the way for the House bill we just approved.

On a different subject, the House on Wednesday provided overwhelming final approval of my bill to criminalize the act of misrepresenting pets as service animals and the governor has since signed it into law.

This false representation issue has been a growing. It causes dangerous situations in public and also damages the reputation of legitimate service animals. The legislation I let do law makes impersonating a service animal a petty misdemeanor for the first offense and a misdemeanor for any subsequent offense.

It is disappointing that some bad actors, for whatever reason, have put innocent people and pets in harm’s way by introducing family pets to environments they are not accustomed to and may not handle well. My real hope is this bill will help raise public awareness and cause people to stop and think so fines never even have to be issued.

The bill also clarifies that, by definition, a service animal is a dog and that companion animals are not covered through this legislation. A conference committee made slight alterations to match my bill with the companion authored by Sen. Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids. One provision that was included adds liability protection for property owners.

Thanks to all those who helped get this bill across the finish line. Minnesota now joins a list of 20 states that have passed similar laws.

Finally, the House approved a package of bills to improve school safety on Thursday. Our goal is to provide schools with the resources and flexibility they need to make appropriate local decisions. That includes expanding the use of long-term facilities maintenance revenue for facility security upgrades, strengthening the state’s commitment to school-linked mental health grants, supporting suicide prevention training for teachers, increasing funding for Safe Schools Revenue, and more.

Stay tuned as things continue to develop at the Capitol. We only have three full weeks before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

-Steve

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