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House, Senate pass 'original' version of omnibus environment, agriculture bill

Rep. Denny McNamara describes provisions of the omnibus environment and natural resources and agricultural policy and finance bill during the June 12 Special Session. Photo by Paul Battaglia

After a day and night of procedural twists and turns, the House and Senate voted to pass the omnibus environment, natural resources and agriculture policy and finance bill late Friday evening and early Saturday morning.

Sponsored by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), HF4/SF5* would appropriate approximately $900 million for the upcoming biennium.

The House passed the measure 78-47 as amended and the Senate concurred, passing the bill 38-29.

Those final votes continued a whirlwind of activity that saw the bill fail in the Senate, get repassed after a Senate amendment and then the House refused to concur, instead inserting an amendment to have the bill match what was agreed to by legislative leaders in order for Gov. Mark Dayton to call the special session.

The Senate fell one vote shy in its first attempt to pass the bill, but later reconsidered that vote and then amended the bill to remove language eliminating the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board and repeal a provision that exempts sulfide mining from solid waste rules.

With that done, the bill was passed 40-26.

As soon as the House began its subsequent debate on the amended bill, McNamara offered an amendment of his own that removed the language added in the Senate and restored the bill to its original version.

“Unfortunately, the Senate did not abide by the agreement signed by all four leaders and Gov. Dayton,” McNamara said.

That amendment was adopted 73-52 and the House then began debate on the amended bill.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said that although he would honor the agreement he signed and vote for the bill, other members should not feel bound by it and instead vote their conscience.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) urged his colleagues to vote against the bill, saying it did too much to reward special interests and not enough to help the environment.

“This bill doesn’t protect Minnesota,” Hansen said.

The bill was passed as amended, however, and now travels back to the Senate for concurrence.

In a statement, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) called on the Senate “to do the right thing and send this bill to the governor.”

How the money would be spent

Some of the largest appropriations in HF4/SF5* include:

  • Depart of Natural Resources:     $525.9 million
  • Pollution Control Agency:             $186.9 million
  • Department of Agriculture:         $87 million
  • Board of Water and Soil Resources: $26.7 million
  • Metropolitan Council:                    $17.5 million
  • Zoological Board:                              $16.8 million

What the bill would do

When Dayton vetoed the original omnibus environment and agriculture bill May 23, he cited nine specific objections in his veto letter and insisted the language in that bill regarding buffer zones and avian influenza be included in any new legislation.

HF4/SF5* satisfies those requirements with no change to the buffer provisions and an additional $4.4 million to fight the avian flu outbreak. It also addresses many of the governor’s other objections by making changes that include:

  • new language that requires repayment of approximately $58 million to the Closed Landfill Investment Fund using surplus money that is expected to be available in the General Fund after the November forecast;
  • a change in the requirement for an independent peer review whenever the PCA proposes changes to water quality standards. The new language would not require such a review. It allows the agency to call for an external peer review or to “state the reason” such a panel will not be convened;
  • a clarification of the language regarding self-reporting of environmental violations, which would require the PCA to delay enforcement, for 60 days rather than the 90 days in the original bill. The new language specifies the provision applies only to “minor violations” that do not cause serious harm to human health or the environment; and
  • an additional $500,000 for the Environmental Quality Board to streamline the environmental review process.

Other provisions in the bill would:

  • create new stewardship accounts to cover the costs of managing conservation easements held by the DNR and the State Board of Investment;
  • extinguish the school trust interest in lands that are not generating long-term economic return;
  • establish a grant program promoting more recycling in rural parts of the state;
  • obtain cost estimates for augmenting water levels in White Bear Lake;
  • allow ATV riders between the ages of 12 to 15 to ride on public roads or streets to access a business in counties or cities with ordinances permitting that;
  • create a framework to begin a pilot project studying industrial hemp as an agricultural crop;
  • change the income limit for home cooks and gardeners who sell their products to the public from S5,000 to $18,000;
  • create three new production-based bioenergy grant programs, to be administered by the department, to encourage advanced biofuel, renewable chemical and biomass thermal production;
  • form an Agriculture, Research, Education, Extension, and Technology Transfer Board to award grants to projects that help Minnesota achieve long-term agricultural productivity;
  • start a new loan program to help farmers add value to crop or livestock, improve efficiency, achieve environmental improvements and increase on-farm energy production;
  • create a pilot program at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center to train inmates for careers as butchers upon release;
  • work to identify emerging opportunities for agriculture producers and processers in Cuba; and
  • repeal an existing law, set to take effect in July 2015, which would have required boaters to display a trailer decal certifying they’ve taken an aquatic invasive species education course. Instead, new language would be added to applications for all watercraft and nonresident fishing licenses asking applicants to affirm they profess awareness of invasive species prevention.

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