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Legislative roundup: MN House votes to dump wild rice water rules

The golden Quadriga stands atop the Minnesota Capitol as legislators move toward a May 21, 2018, end of their session. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Scientific and cultural discussions overlapped as the Minnesota House approved a bill to start over on water regulations protecting wild rice.

Representatives voted 78-45 Monday, April 23, to dump a law in place since 1973, but never enforced, that regulates how much sulfate may be in water of wild rice beds.

The bill stops the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from taking action on wild rice water quality, and tells the Department of Natural Resources to convene a working group that would report back to the Legislature early next year about recommendations for what lawmakers should do on the subject.

"We all want abundant wild rice," Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said.

Both sides claimed to have solid science on their side.

Without strong regulations against sulfate, the risk to wild rise "is just too great," Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, said in speaking against the legislation. On the other hand, Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, said people in his taconite mine-surrounded community safely drink water, water many people say should be dangerous.

Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, said he worked with representatives from mining areas that are the focus of the bill. He said the bill will "continue to protect wild rice" while allowing mines to remain working.

Indian tribal members in the House said wild rice is important to their culture, and withholding sulfate standards endangers the state grain.

"There is an opportunity to come up with a science-based solution, but also a cultural-based solution," Rep. Peggy Flanagan, D-St. Louis Park, said.

Lueck said he is using some tribal ideas in his bill, although Flanagan said tribal leaders still await "meaningful consultation."

Senators are expected to take up a similar bill later this week.

Buffer help appreciated

Gov. Mark Dayton says he is happy Republicans support a tax credit to help farmers afford installing buffers around water.

Buffers, which are designed to keep pollutants out of Minnesota's water, are one of Dayton's major clean-water initiatives. Republican lawmakers have been unhappy, in part because the state does not provide money to compensate farmers for giving up cropland.

The tax credit would provide eligible landowners $50 per acre per year for farmland converted to buffers.

"I thank Rep. Paul Anderson and Sen. Bill Weber for authoring this sensible, bipartisan proposal to support Minnesota farmers, who are working to protect clean water throughout our state," Dayton said. "I strongly support this legislation, and encourage Republican Legislative Leaders to send it to me, as a clean bill, as soon as possible."

Satellite broadband funding

A House committee has approved spending $750,000 with a satellite broadband provider as part of a high-speed internet pilot program.

The rest of a $15 million appropriation likely would go to wired broadband projects.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, offered the amendment after years of saying that wireless internet is the future, not continuing wired connections. The amendment would allow about 1,000 homes to receive satellite internet, he said.

All in one money bill

The Senate Finance Committee began Monday to combine nearly all spending bills together, from public safety to health care.

Finance Chairwoman Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said each bill will be heard during the two-day exercise, then the single spending bill will be drawn up.

The 2018 Legislature is modifying a two-year, $46 billion budget lawmakers passed last year and Gov. Mark Dayton approved. This year's debate mostly divides up a $329 million surplus predicted for the budget.

No special session

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to quickly send him major bills, with less than a month less in the 2018 session.

And, he said, lawmakers should not expect him to call them back into a special session if they do not get their work done.

"There is still time remaining in this session for legislators to debate publicly and act on legislation, upon which we can all agree..." Dayton wrote to legislative leaders. "I remind you again that I will veto any budget bills, which contain objectionable policy provisions or cut the operating budgets of state agencies."

He said he wants legislators to hurry up and pass bills to protect the elderly, improve school safety, address the opioid abuse crisis and stabilize pensions.

While Dayton's letter mentioned just once that no special session is in the works, last week he told reporters: "I will not call a special session. I will not call a special session. I will not call a special session." The governor is the only person who can call lawmakers back to work in a special session.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.