The House gave its final stamp of approval to more than $860 million in biennial appropriations for agriculture and the environment Monday, voting 83-50 to repass HF846*/SF1764 — the session’s omnibus environment, natural resources and agriculture policy and finance bill.
It now heads to the Senate.
Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), who previously said the bill contained a lot of “commonsense reforms,” opened debate by describing some of the changes it went through during the conference committee process that has taken place over the last few days.
There is new language that seeks common ground between Gov. Mark Dayton’s initiative to reduce pollution by increasing buffers along waters around the state, and concerns from some agriculture groups that these new laws would prove expensive to farmers and other landowners.
House and Senate conferees, working to find consensus on the bill, struggled through the weekend to find that compromise, reconvening at 2 a.m. Monday morning to tweak buffer language that had been added by amendment the day before.
The bill now mandates a minimum buffer width of 16.5 feet on all public ditches.
“There’s no 50-foot requirement here, this is down to the one rod,” said McNamara, the bill sponsor. “You can think of it as about the length of a canoe.”
Landowners found in violation would have 11 months to correct the issue before being subject to a $500 fine. However, they could also receive a refund of half that amount under the proposed rule.
“It’s my hope, with the help of the ag groups, there will be no fines going forward,” McNamara said.
He noted there were “all kinds of tools” farmers could use to get the work done.
Counties and municipalities would also be required to make sure public shorelands have an average buffer of 50 feet.
Several representatives questioned the effectiveness of the new language. Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) said those who didn’t want to comply could write off what would ultimately be a $250 fine and do nothing to improve their buffers.
“Then where are we? We’re no place,” Wagenius said. “You have written something that doesn’t do what you said you wanted it to. This bill just doesn’t work for protecting waters.”
Citizens’ Board eliminated
One of the most controversial outcomes, if the bill becomes law, would be elimination of the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board. While earlier language would have removed much of the decision-making authority currently held by the board, the conference committee went one-step further and disbanded it altogether.
Objections to the board’s authority surfaced earlier this session with a bill introduced by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), who said he wanted to eliminate the uncertainty businesses face during the permitting process when the board has final say over a permit’s approval.
Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) called eliminating the board an “extreme measure” he did not expect.
“I think it is hugely problematic and objectionable,” Hornstein said.
Rep. David Bly (DFL-Northfield) said he was troubled by the effort to remove the board because it eliminated the citizens’ voice from the process.
AIS decal repeal
The bill would also repeal a controversial new law, set to take effect this July, which requires boaters to display a trailer decal certifying they’ve taken an education course teaching best practices to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. Instead, the bill would add language to applications for all watercraft and nonresident fishing licenses asking applicants to affirm they profess awareness of invasive species prevention.
The biennial environment and natural resources appropriations in HF846*/SF1764 are:
Other environment and natural resources provisions in the bill would:
Agriculture appropriations and policy
The bill would also appropriate more than $87 million for the Department of Agriculture. This includes a section of appropriations to fund avian influenza response activities. MDA ($3.62 million), the Board of Animal Health ($1.85 million) and the Department of Health ($103,000) would all receive funds for that purpose.
The DNR would receive $350,000 for detection and monitoring of the virus in wild animals and the Department of Public Safety would get $544,000 to operate the State Emergency Operations Center in coordination with the response. There is also a provision to allow any unused appropriations to be transferred between the agencies to cover expenses related to the avian flu response.
Another provision would appropriate $2 million to the University of Minnesota to research the causes of avian flu, and how to prevent it, and there is a $10 million appropriation for revolving loans that those impacted by avian flu can draw from as they work to recover from the outbreak.
The framework for a pilot project to study industrial hemp was also included. It would authorize the MDA, along with higher education institutions, to study the benefits and opportunities industrial hemp may provide the state’s farmers. Hemp seeds and oil can be used to make a variety of products, from fabrics and foods to fuels and paper.
Another provision would change the income limit for home cooks and gardeners who sell their products to the public. It would allow them to sell directly to consumers beyond community events and farmers’ markets and raise their annual sales limit from $5,000 to $18,000.
Other agriculture provisions included would: