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Minnesota Legislature

Omnibus bill clears hurdles

Published (4/17/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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Consumer protection policies, help for flooded areas and increases in fees for services and inspections are included in the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls), HF2123 includes spending recommendations for the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, the Board of Water and Soil Resources and the Metropolitan Council. On average, the agencies would be affected with 6 percent cuts, except for the Conservation Corps, which the bill proposes to fully fund. The bill contains a $744.2 General Fund allocation for the 2010-2011 biennium.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division and the House Finance and Ways and Means committees approved the bill over a three-day period beginning April 14. It awaits action by the full House.

The bill would:

• prohibit the use of yard waste bags that do not meet the American Society for Testing and Materials standard specification for compostable plastics

• protect children from toxic chemicals by establishing a priority listing of harmful substances, and requiring mandatory reporting by manufacturers of children’s products that contain the listed chemicals; and

• allow consumers to purchase DNR gift cards and certificates that could be redeemed to buy recreational licenses or to make purchases at historic site gift shops. The gift cards would retain their value until redeemed.

A large portion of the appropriation would focus on water quality issues, including:

• the Red River Watershed, which experiences frequent flooding;

• development of new urban storm water runoff design standards;

• prevention of lake, river, stream and groundwater degradation;

• water restoration practices that require planting native vegetation and seed; and

• grants to counties for the feedlot pollution prevention projects.

Funding for the state’s tree nurseries remains in the bill despite attempts by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) to phase out the state’s two tree nurseries. In addition, an amendment by Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) was successfully added that would require the Minnesota Forest Resources Council to submit recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2010 to increase tree planting for the sequestration of carbon.

Due to the budget crisis, no money is in the bill for new state trails, although many park and trail bills were introduced.

Wagenius also didn’t include appropriations from the Clean Water Fund, which comes from the new dedicated sales tax, because she and other division members wanted to avoid any appearance that they were replacing budget cuts with the new dedicated tax dollars. The Clean Water Fund receipts must not replace traditional sources of funding.

A plan to use $940,000 from several dedicated outdoor recreation accounts to recruit and retain visitors to state natural areas was successfully amended out of the bill by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar). The DNR would have used the money to attract youth and new immigrant families to outdoor recreation opportunities. Hackbarth and other members said they support recruitment activities, but not at the expense of the dedicated spending accounts.

The House Finance Committee incorporated the omnibus energy finance bill, HF1754, into this bill in order to align it with the Senate version. In addition, appropriations for the Minnesota Zoo and the Science Museum of Minnesota, at the direction of the House Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division, were amended onto the bill.

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