Political chatter: 2012 ag controversy continues with committee assignments

Republicans who will control the Minnesota House next year angered Democrats by leaving a strong environmentalist off the environmental committee.

House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, released a list of committee members Thursday night, and the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee list did not include Rep. Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis. She has served on the committee each of her 14 terms in the House, earning a reputation of detailed-oriented environmentalist.

“I am deeply disappointed that Speaker-designate Daudt has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to accept the individual the minority caucus has designated as its lead on a Minnesota House committee,” current Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “So much for the ‘balanced approach’ the Republicans touted repeatedly during the campaign.”

Two years ago, when Democrats took control of the House, Thissen put Wagenius in charge of an environment and agriculture committee, angering rural Republican who said Wagenius is against traditional farming and that putting the subjects together reduces the importance of agriculture.

Republicans gained control of the House in last month’s election, and established several rural-oriented committees. Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake will be chairman of the Agriculture Finance Committee, while Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck will lead the Agriculture Policy Committee.

Daudt’s office said little about the decision, but issued a statement from him: “We have put together a committee structure that is balanced and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on problems Minnesotans care about.”

Thissen said Wagenius’ voice is important for the committee.

“Just because House Republicans don’t take climate change or protecting Minnesota’s water and air seriously doesn’t mean that the majority of Minnesotans agree with them,” Thissen said. “Rep. Jean Wagenius is a woman of great integrity who would bring much needed experience to the important work of the environment committee.”

Democrats’ rural problems two years ago were not limited to the Wagenius chairmanship. They also took heat by making Minneapolis’ Thissen speaker and Erin Murphy of St. Paul majority leader, skipping over Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth. He had run to give a rural balance to leadership; next year he will be an assistant minority leader after 10 rural seats flipped from Democrat to Republican in the November vote.

Bachman doesn’t go quietly

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann surprised no one as she exited Congress for the unknown.

The Republican firebrand was critical of Democratic President Barack Obama to his face at a White House holiday party, she weaved critical remarks around thank-yous in her final floor speech and she sent an email blasting her own party’s congressional leaders.

“Speaker John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership cut a deal with the Obama Democrats to approve another staggering $1.1 trillion in new spending,” she wrote in an email from her political action committee. “What happened to the Republican commitment to fight the reckless Obama agenda, balance the budget and save our country?”

She added: “Unfortunately, I can’t say I am surprised. Dismayed, disappointed and angry — but not surprised.”

Franken for Hillary

Hillary Clinton has the support of both of Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. senators.

Sen. Al Franken told MSNBC that he is in the Clinton camp. Amy Klobuchar already expressed her support, despite talk that she could be a presidential candidate herself.

Clinton has not announced she is running in 2016, but she is expected to and is considered the leading Democratic candidate, by far.

“I think that Hillary would make a great president,” Franken said in the MSNBC interview.

“I think that I’m ready for Hillary,” he said. “I mean, I think that we’ve not had someone this experienced, this tough, and she’s very, very impressive.”

 Solid agreement already

Minnesota’s legislative leaders and governor are feeling out each other to find out what to expect in the coming legislative session, but they already agree on one thing.

“We are going to the last day,” House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, predicted.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he, too, thinks legislators will use every day until the constitutional deadline to adjourn. He said all deadlines for the session will be set with that date in mind.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton probably would not argue. He often has said that the nature of a Legislature is to use all of the available time.

The 2015 session begins at noon Jan. 6. And while it must end by May 18, Dayton could call legislators back into session if they do not complete a budget or new issues arise. However, Dayton has shown a reluctance to call special sessions.

Seifert to lobby

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, will lobby for greater Minnesota issues in the 2015 Minnesota Legislature.

He has joined the Flaherty and Hood law firm, which represents the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and several cities that belong to that group.

Seifert has lost two campaigns for governor, including a Republican primary loss this year in which he ran as the only greater Minnesota candidate.

Franken in Uber fight

The fast-growing Uber transportation service and U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota are engaged in a privacy battle.

Franken, an outspoken privacy advocate and chairman of a subcommittee on the subject, has complained about Uber’s data collection practices. He also has wondered whether Uber misuses consumer data.

“I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes the ability to control who is getting your personal location information and who it’s being shared with,” Franken said. “I recently pressed Uber to explain the scope, transparency and enforceability of their privacy policies. While I’m pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response.”

Uber’s response indicated that the company that connects riders with drivers for hire has disciplined its workers who broke its privacy policy.

Part of the problem, as Franken explains it, is that the global positioning system Uber uses allows the new company to track riders’ locations.

‘Give bees a chance’

Spivak

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson promises to plant more flowers.

It is part of a new program his department launched at the State Fair on Thursday to encourage Minnesotans to provide good homes to bees, wasps, butterflies and other insects that pollinate plants.

Pollinators’ numbers are falling and scientists do not know all the causes, although some pesticide use is suspected as one problem.

“More than one third of all plants are plant products that we consume are directly or indirectly dependent on insects for pollination, and a decline in pollinators negatively affects us all,” Frederickson said.

Participants in the program are asked to join Frederickson and pledge to take an action to help pollinators.

Frederickson said his department will focus on educating the public about how regular Minnesotans can help. His promise to plant more flowers may be a popular way to help, but he also suggested letting dandelions grow because bees like them.

Other ideas the commissioner offered include leaving areas of a lawn unmowed, reducing pesticide use, setting out water bowls to give pollinators a drink and to start a beehive.

Besides pesticides, parasites and diseases are among factors believed to be causing the pollinator decline.

There still is too little known about bees and other pollinators, said Marla Spivak, a nationally known bee expert from the University of Minnesota.

While about a third of Minnesota honey bee colonies are lost each year, Spivak said that native bee population trends are not well understood (honey bees are not native to the state). However, she added, studies on the topic are beginning.

Of Minnesota’s 18 or 19 bumble bee species, she said, two “are very endangered.”

Frederickson and legislators at Thursday’s announcement said Minnesota has passed more bee-related laws than any other state. For instance, it now is illegal to label a product as bee friendly if it really can harm the insects. Also, state agencies are required to take bee-friendly actions, such as improving habitat.

The issue is well known in rural areas, where farmers need pollinators for their crops. But state Rep. Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis, said she has been hearing about it in her urban area as she goes door-to-door campaigning.

Rep. Rick Hanson, D-South St. Paul, said that lawmakers will take more actions to help pollinators, but urged common Minnesotans to help, too.

“Give bees a chance,” he pleaded.

Frederickson

Bill mixes paint, bees and farmers … and includes an island, too

Rep. Ben Lien

By Don Davis

Paint will cost more and be recycled. Bees will be protected. Financially troubled farmers will be able to access state aid.

And an island to provide more wildlife habitat could be built in the Mississippi River.

Those are a few of the impacts from a diverse environment, natural resources and agriculture funding bill headed for Gov. Mark Dayton’s expected approval.

The overall bill spends $312 million on programs such as in the Agriculture Department, Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources. Funding for the two years beginning July 1 is $25 million more than in the current budget.

The House voted for the bill 71-60 and the Senate 42-23, sending it to Dayton for his expected signature.

A House-Senate conference committee removed the most controversial aspect of the bill, new fees on people who use large quantities of water, such as farmers who irrigate land.

The House version of the bill tacked on new fees, but the committee accepted the Senate provision that takes money from the state General Fund.

“This bill is a winner for communities in rural Minnesota,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin. “It gives us the tools to address shrinking water supplies without raising water fees, which is a big deal for farmers, ranchers, livestock producers and agri-businesses that depend on reliable supplies of water. This bill recognizes the need to solve that problem before it’s too late.”

Mining fees were rejected that House bill author Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said were needed “so the mining industry was paying its fair share for some of the costs it is imposing on the state. The Senate declined to increase fees whatsoever.”

One of Wagenius’ concerns this year has been a water shortage in parts of Minnesota, including Worthington, parts of Otter Tail County and White Bear Lake.

The bill gives the DNR more authority and $6.6 million more money to monitor groundwater and surface water to the state can address water shortages.

“It is something hard for me to imagine … where we are having shortages of water,” Wagenius said.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, did not agree with the water monitoring. She said it bothers her to see money spent on water monitoring when the Democratic-written budget does not give enough money to nursing homes.

And, Franson added, “we’ve still got that $300,000 restroom in there.” She referred to a northern Minnesota restroom in an area Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said is miles away from any public restroom.

The bill tacks a 75-cent-a-can fee on paint to establish a program to recycle unused paint.

“We are moving to a system of the person who creates the mess pays for it rather than asking for a subsidy from the neighbor,” Wagenius said.

That fee concerned Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau. He said his constituents could buy paint in North Dakota, which does not charge a recycling fee.

“I cannot imagine how this is going to be good for our border hardware stores and paint stores,” Fabian said.

However, he added, he was glad that proposal to require carpet recycling was dropped.

Some Republicans complained that the bill adds too much to government.

“What we have here is government run amuck…” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said. “We are giving them even more unchecked authority in a number of areas.”

The bill also establishes protections for bees that have been dying off.

“We are an agriculture state and agriculture depends on pollinators,” Wagenius said.

The bill includes a provision that would allow Minneapolis authorities to “recreate” an island in the Mississippi River.

Drazkowski asked Wagenius: “Can you tell me where did the island go?”

Wagenius responded: “No.”

Drazkowski guessed that “the river took the island out.”

“We could end up building an island in the stream and having it washed away,” Drazkowski said.

Wagenius said the island is needed to add wildlife habitat.

Among other provisions in the bill financing environment, natural resources and agriculture programs are:

– The Minnesota Agriculture Department will spend $3 million on a farm-to-school program to provide local produce for schools.

– Agriculture business development will get a $10.5 million boost and renewable fuels $2.5 million more.

– Spending $8.7 million for the University of Minnesota to develop its aquatic invasive species research center to fight invasive species such as Asian carp, but fish barriers were not funded because the federal government has not approved them.

– More fuels will be defined as biofuels beyond just ethanol and biodiesel.

– The state will provide guidance to local governments dealing with silica sand mines and production facilities and local silica sand mining moratorium provisions may be expanded for a year.

– Perfluorochemical (PFC) monitoring is funded for the eastern Twin Cities, where 3M waste has been an issue.

– The farmer-lender mediation act that helps farmers in financial trouble was extended through 2016.

Fee increases bother GOP in ag-outdoors bill

Corrects DNR and PCA budget figures from earlier version of story

—-

By Danielle Killey

Republican lawmakers said an environment and agriculture budget bill the House approved 69-61 Thursday is loaded with too-high fees and wasteful spending.

“This agriculture and environment finance proposal is loaded with staggering fee increases that will impact hardworking taxpayers in every income bracket,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

Bill author Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said the money will help manage water issues throughout the state, stem the spread of invasive species and fund agriculture programs.

“These fees are not nearly as damaging as has been indicated, and in fact are needed and they’re necessary to protect our air and water and the health and safety of the people,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.

A major concern among many lawmakers was water usage fee increases. They would add up to between about 75 cents and $4 a year for a household and about $2 to $6 per acre for the average farmer, said Wagenius, the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee chairwoman. That would raise about $6.1 million a year.

“Farmers are facing substantial increases in this bill when it comes to water and fees,” said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.

Democrats argued that the money is needed to protect water in the state and that funding and resources have lagged in the past.

“We’ve all assumed the water in our state is an infinite resource,” Wagenius said, “but our water, particularly our water underground, has its limits, and we’re seeing those limits right now.”

Those who opposed the overall bill said it would negatively affect homeowners, businesses and especially farmers. They pointed to permitting, mining and other fee increases, saying they would add up and negatively affect Minnesotans.

“This bill really increases fees on a lot of people, a lot of businesses,” said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.

Some said the budget plan could push companies out of Minnesota.

“The fees in this bill give small businesses just one more reason to relocate to North Dakota,” said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston.

Democrats said the bill should show they understand the importance of rural Minnesota.

“It confirms the priorities of the DFL majority to make strong investments in agriculture that will benefit our farmers and our entire state,” said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.

The bill would allot $67 million for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, about $478 million for the Department of Natural Resources and about $171 million for the Pollution Control Agency, among other departments.

The proposal also would create a silica sand technical assistance team to help local governments dealing with the issue.

Republicans said some proposed spending is unnecessary. For example, $300,000 is set aside for bee habitats, many noted, including $50,000 earmarked for signs and public awareness. Some acknowledged the bee population is suffering but said there are better ways to spend the money.

After brief discussion, Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, withdrew an amendment putting a five-year moratorium on wolf trapping — from when the animal came off the endangered species list last year — and a four-year moratorium on taking wolves in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

A Senate committee approved a wolf hunting and trapping ban earlier in the session, but it has not moved forward since then. The state’s first wolf hunting season ended in January.

State senators are slated to discuss their version of the budget bill today.

Ag chairwomen take action to give farmers bigger committee voice

Wagenius

By Don Davis

Patrick Lunemann is not convinced the agriculture industry will get a fair shake from a Minnesota House committee that decides farm program funding, even after farmers learned of a change to give them more of a voice.

“It is to be determined whether it is going to work,” the Clarissa dairy and crop farmer said Tuesday after the two House agriculture chairwomen discussed the issue with the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council.

The chairwomen announced that the House Agriculture Policy Committee will join the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee when it discusses farm program financing.

It is an effort to answer strong criticism rural Republican legislators leveled against Democrats who control the House. They say ag funding is threatened to be overwhelmed by the other issues, especially since the finance committee chairwoman is a strong environmentalist.

Lunemann, Minnesota Milk Producers Association president, said farmers around the state are talking about the new House committee structure that combines environmental, natural resources and agriculture programs in one finance committee. On Tuesday, farmers learned from Chairwoman Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, that her committee also will deal with outdoors-related programs funded by a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

“There is some skepticism,” Lunemann said of farmers’ feelings about whether the committee will hear their concerns.

Republican lawmakers were more blunt.

“It’s impossible,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said.

Torkelson said all of those tasks cannot be fit into the scheduled twice-a-week committee meetings. However, Wagenius said she is scheduling night meetings, but admitted it will be difficult to fit all of the work into the available time.

Wagenius said it was her idea to invite a committee chaired by Rep. Jeanne Hoppe, DFL-Austin, to her meeting when farm programs are discussed. While Agriculture Policy Committee members would not have vote in the finance committee, they could ask questions and make comments.

Poppe said the joint committee meetings will give her committee members a chance to “provide some guidance” to the Wagenius committee.

Poppe’s committee is dominated by farm-area representatives, while the Wagenius panel does not have an ag majority. Some lawmakers belong to both committees.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and other Republicans brought up the issue early in the legislative session because they said farmers’ voices would be diminished under the new committee structure. They also pointed to the fact that the two most powerful House leaders are from Minneapolis and St. Paul, as are many committee chairmen.

Poppe said rural Republicans did not complain when their party was in power several years ago and the committee structure was similar.

Poppe herself discussed the controversy while speaking at the ag group’s monthly policy meeting after no one brought up the issue. “It’s better to put it on the table.”

She admitted that the finance committee has a lot of work as lawmakers write a budget by May 20.

“I don’t know if in the future it will be seen as too much,” Poppe said.

Carp barrier: disco, electric or …?

Reps. Dan Fabian of Roseau, Denny McNamara of Hastings, Mark Uglem of Champlin

By Don Davis

Three options appear viable to help stop the advance of Asian carp into Minnesota, but after years of talk disputes remain about how to best halt the invasion.

Legislators on the House environment committee Tuesday night criticized the Department of Natural Resource’s  preferred barrier, a combination of light, sound and bubbles that one lawmaker called disco (because of the light and sound) and one called the Lawrence Welk method (due to the sound and bubbles).

Many legislators support an electric barrier, which they thought the DNR was pursuing.

A third suggestion emerged, making a Minneapolis lock and dam obsolete, allowing it to remain closed and, thus, stopping any fish from going upstream.

Several lawmakers were surprised by a DNR report this month, prepared by a consultant, that dismissed using an electric barrier at a St. Paul lock and dam. The report indicated electric barriers were too dangerous, so the DNR backed a sound, light and bubble barrier instead.

“I am completely dumbfounded by our complete reversal on electric,” an upset Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said. “We should be fighting our tail off to make them do it.”

Several lawmakers said they appropriated $7.5 million last year to begin work on an electric barrier.

The DNR’s Steve Hirsch said he did not think the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard would approve an electric barrier and the state would waste $1 million and several months preparing a proposal that ultimately would be rejected.

Geoff Griffin of G-Cubed, a company that helps build electric barriers, said the DNR consultant did a poor job of compiling its report, including not looking at barriers that would be similar to one proposed for the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

Griffin said his company and one he works with could build a barrier for $5 million, far less than up to $19 million that the DNR report says would be needed for the sound-bubble-light barrier. Such a barrier never has been built, and electric barrier supporters say their method is far more effective.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested a third option that many lawmakers had not heard. She said a river boat company and many recreational boaters have said they do not need a downtown Minneapolis lock, leaving just two businesses that use it.

Wagenius suggested that if the state helps those businesses find other transportation routes, the dam could be closed because it would be obsolete. Several lawmakers said that sounded like the most economical plan.

However, Congress would have to approve it.

Committee Chairman David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said it is imperative that the Legislature decide “if we are going to let carp” swim into Minnesota streams and lakes.

The carp have huge appetites and many experts fear they will destroy existing water plant and animal populations. Some say it could cost state fishing, tourism and other businesses billions of dollars.

Dill said the Legislature must decide what route to take to stop the carp, which he called his committee’s top priority. He said that an Asian carp invasion eventually would affect every Minnesotan.

Asian carp are on the Mississippi in large numbers between Iowa and Illinois and some have been caught in Minnesota portion of the river, as well as the St. Croix. DNA of the fish has been found upstream from the Twin Cities, but some experts question whether that means fish already are there.

If the carp get upstream from a northwestern Twin Cities dam, they would have easy access to Mille Lacs Lake and eventually to most other northern Minnesota waters. They also would have easy access to the Minnesota River, which drains much of western and southern Minnesota.

Most experts say they do not know how to stop the carp from infesting the Minnesota and St. Croix rivers.

Legislative notebook: Bickering begins early in session

Murphy prays

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

The 2013 Minnesota legislative session started with Republicans and Democrats pledging to work together, but just 48 hours later that promise already seems to be falling apart.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann said Thursday it appears to him that “all talk of being bipartisan is going down the drain.”

For example, Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that he and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk have not met since the election, which Hann called a surprise. A spokesman for Bakk said the Democratic Cook senator called Hann to congratulate him after his win in November, but never heard back. Efforts to meet privately stopped there.

Republican senators called out Democrats during a committee meeting Thursday to approve staff members and their pay, saying Republican staffers took a larger salary cut than Democrat and nonpartisan Senate employees.

“To me it just doesn’t smell right,” committee member Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said.

Hann called the move “unfair,” “punitive,” “arbitrary” and “disrespectful” throughout the day. Senators spent more than two hours between the committee meeting and a full Senate session fighting over the issue.

Bakk said he is trying to keep the Senate budget in check. There is some uncertainty, for example, in how high the bills will be in an ongoing lawsuit with former staffer Michael Brodkorb, who sued the Senate after he was fired. He had a relationship with former Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo.

Other GOP lawmakers joined with Hann on the Senate floor urging Democrats to reconsider the policy. They got nowhere.

Hann said he still thinks there are areas where Democrats and Republicans can work together and did not know whether the bickering would continue throughout the rest of the session.

Aggies continue fight

Chairwoman Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said she is certain agriculture interests will get a fair shake in her House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.

Republican farm-area representatives have said that they fear ag programs will be shortchanged in the new committee after years of being considered by a standalone committee.

Those lawmakers “have not come to me,” Wagenius said Thursday after her first committee meeting of the 3-day-old legislative session.

A Wagenius slip-up concerned farmers. She called the Future Farmers of America organization the “FAA,” drawing a rebuke from fellow Democrat Rep. Jeanne Poppe of Austin.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, protested earlier this week about including agriculture with the two other major areas of government. That protest, which even Republicans say will not succeed, is to be considered by the House Rules Committee on Monday.

As members introduced themselves Thursday, many urban lawmakers went out of their way to talk about their links to farming.

That did not satisfy rural Republicans.

“How do we build a trust?” Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, asked of Wagenius, who is a long-time strong environmentalist.

Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, said that agriculture is too big and complex to be put in with natural resources and environmental issues.

“It’s easy to take that small ag budget and sift it into other things,” she said.

While the ag budget is small, Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said: “It is our top priority.”

Prayer of a chance?

Rep. Mary Murphy stood at the feet of the House speaker Thursday, but sought help from an even higher source.

“Help us serve with patience and joy,” the Hermantown Democrat said during her prayer opening the third day of the 2013 Minnesota legislative session.

She also prayed that each legislator understand that “every person’s legislative needs are as important as all the others.”

A clergy person or lawmaker delivers a prayer every time the House meets, and Murphy is given the task at least once a year.

Republicans worry DFL leaders lack rural credentials

The Minnesota House agriculture committee chairman for the past two years is concerned Democrats are putting agriculture on the back burner as they take control of the chamber.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said agriculture and rural finance issues were discussed in their own committee for years. But when Democrats become the House majority on Jan. 8, those issues will be considered with environment and natural resources matters.

“My concern is it will be playing a diminished role, if you will, and we just shouldn’t let that happen,” Hamilton said.

To further frustrate Hamilton, the House speaker and majority leader are from Minneapolis and St. Paul, shutting rural Minnesota out of the two top posts.

Democrats counter with their own argument: More than 80 percent of state funding will go through finance committees led by rural chairmen.

House Majority Leader-elect Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said House leaders aim for balance among rural, suburban and urban areas.

“Our job is to make sure we are focusing on Minnesota as whole,” said Murphy, who grew up surrounded by farm country in the southern Wisconsin communities of Columbus and Janesville.

“I have farmers in my family,” she said. “It is not lost on me that we live in an agricultural economy and an agricultural state.”

When House Democrats made Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis their choice for speaker and elected Murphy majority leader, it raised some rural eyebrows. It is not common for a party to make Twin Cities urban lawmakers their top two leaders.

“I worry about what direction that is going to steer,” said Rep. Kurt Daudt, the man House Republicans named their leader.

So far, he said, DFL leaders have been fair to him but he is concerned since he comes from Crown, a rural area just north of the Twin Cities.

In the past, Daudt said, “very often the DFL will push the funding formula to be more beneficial to the urban area.” For instance, Minneapolis schools receive 50 percent more funding per pupil than in his rural area, he said.

“What makes a kid in Minneapolis worth 50 percent more than a kid in my area?” Daudt asked. “Rural areas sometimes get forgotten about.”

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, promised that rural Minnesota will be remembered while he is chairman of the House Education Finance Committee.

Marquart ran against Murphy in a DFL caucus election just after Election Day to give rural Minnesota a voice in the leadership circle. After losing that vote, the high school social studies teacher strongly defends Thissen’s pick of committee chairmen.

“Rural Minnesota has a lot of strength on these committees, which I was very pleased to see,” Marquart said. “I think it was important that Speaker-designate Thissen wanted to make sure … that there was a rural voice at the table when it comes to education finance.”

Hamilton said Marquart “is a good person,” but he joined Daudt in concerns about lower rural funding for schools and nursing homes. Still, he is most worried about agriculture spending.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, will be chairwoman of the new Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance committee. The 26-year House veteran, who could not be reached for comment, long has been a DFL leader on environmental issues.

“I‘m not trying to pick a fight with Rep. Wagenius,” Hamilton said. “She is a champion on environmental issues, there is no question about it.”

In the Senate, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, will lead a finance division that includes the environment, economic development and agriculture. Tomassoni is from a smaller community, but one without much traditional agriculture in the area.

With agriculture funding now mixed with environment and natural resources funding, Hamilton said that he fears money that has been set aside for agriculture could go elsewhere.

If agriculture were to remain separate, he said, Democrats have “wonderful rural members” who could be chairman.

If agriculture ends up getting a fair treatment, he added, “I will be the first to apologize.”

Hamilton wondered if putting agriculture last in the committee title was a signal of its lack of importance.

“I want to keep an open mind, but I do want to raise my concerns,” Hamilton said. “If you don’t bring them up and they are not addressed right up front, then don’t be complaining at the end if things don’t go the way you want.”

House, Senate pass slightly different bonding bills

Howes

By Don Davis and Danielle Nordine

Nearly $500 million in higher education, infrastructure repair and other public works projects will be funded by a borrowing bill if the House and Senate agree in final negotiations.

The House approved 99-32 Monday and the Senate 45-22.

A number of legislators tried to add local projects to the bill during debate Monday, most unsuccessfully. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said there are many “meritorious” projects, but “we’re trying to keep this bill within the confines of $496 million.”

While debating the bill Monday night, most of the dozens of amendments offered by senators for additional projects or funding shifts were rejected. Members did make some changes, however, so the House will have to approve the plan again or it will go to negotiators.

Nearly $200 million of the proposal would go to state-run colleges and universities, with the Capitol getting $44 million to begin a renovation project that eventually will cost upwards of $220 million. The bill also sprinkles money around to projects such as flood prevention, transit, roads, bridges, home foreclosure prevention and other needs throughout the state.

While the bill received broad support, Democrats generally wanted to spend more money while Republicans preferred less.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said they did “pretty well” setting up the bill given the Republicans’ desired spending cap. Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said the bill is a compromise.

“We do have the capacity to do a larger bonding bill than what is before us,” Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said as she unsuccessfully tried to add funding for the University of Minnesota.

Funds would be raised by the state selling bonds, and repaid over up to 30 years.

The bill was to be debated last week, but Howes said that Gov. Mark Dayton demanded that the University of Minnesota and MnSCU figures were closer together.

Howes, chairman of the committee that deals with public works projects, worked with others to raise the university level $10 million while cutting MnSCU spending $13 million.

The new bill includes $50 million that the state Department of Employment and Economic Development can hand out for economic development uses. He said it could be used for projects such as those often including in the bonding bill, including civic centers that were not included in this year’s bill.

“This was a way that greater Minnesota communities, who many times don’t have lobbyists to speak for them, can go through DEED and get the money,” Howes said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called it a “$50 million slush fund.” An amendment to the bill Drazkowski offered would have moved that money to local road construction, but representatives voted it down 84-47. A similar proposal was discussed in the Senate but withdrawn.

Another Drazkowski proposal, to fund some public works projects from a sales tax increase votes approved in 2008, lost 92-37.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, praised the bill for spending $30 million for flood prevention.

“It will go a long way … toward protecting our cities and communities from 100-year flood,” Marquart said.

Some were not so happy. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, complained that the bill does not include money to fight Asian carp.

“We’re saying we are going to give the carp another year to get up the Mississippi,” she said about the fish that eat so much food as to leave native species wanting.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, lost 40-25 trying to add $612,000 for the Sheldon Theatre.

“This is what we should be bonding for, to support our infrastructure,” he said.

A plan from Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, to provide more than $7 million for building the American Indian Learning Resource Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth lost on a 33-33 tie vote.

“This is important history to preserve, and what better place to do it than the University of Minnesota?” Bakk said.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, had her plan to provide $50,000 to a Cottage Grove business incubator program rejected on a voice vote.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, asked for $250,000 for a similar project at Pine Technical College, but his amendment was voted down 35-32.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, lost 47-20 a plan to provide grant funding to public entities using biomass energy products.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, lost 69-62 in trying to require made in Minnesota solar energy equipment on new public facilities.

“This is a good way when you are using taxpayer money to the tune of almost half a billion dollars to support local businesses,” Rukavina said.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, lost an attempt on a voice vote to take $250,000 earmarked for a National Guard training center and give it to designing a Bemidji veterans’ home.

“We can’t be taking from our current men and women serving in the National Guard,” Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said.

The Senate voted 50-14 against including $4.75 million for a community center for Wadena, to replace facilities destroyed in a 2010 tornado. The project was not included in the bill House and Senate leaders wrote. However, Wadena could apply for part of the $50 million in grant money.

“The community’s been in the process of rebuilding ever since 2010,” Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.

House OKs bonding, sends to Senate

Howes watches Rep. Linda Runbeck

The Minnesota House this afternoon passed a public works finance bill 99-32 that would spend nearly a half billion dollars on a wide range of projects, ranging from beginning a several-year Capitol building renovation project to fixing college buildings.

Senators could take up the measure later today.

In general, Democrats wanted to spend more money while Republicans preferred less. Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said his bill is a compromise.

Among highlights of where the bill spends money:

– University of Minnesota, $64 million.

– Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, $132 million.

– Flood fighting, $30 million.

– State Capitol restoration, $44 million.

– Local bridges, $30 million.

– Greater Minnesota transit, $8 million.

– Local roads, $10 million.

– Corrections Department, $9 million.

– Infrastructure grants, $50 million.

– Foreclosure prevention, $30 million.

Funds would be raised by the state selling bonds, and repaid over up to 30 years.

The bill was to be debated last week, but Howes said that Gov. Mark Dayton demanded that the University of Minnesota and MnSCU figures were closer together.

Howes, chairman of the committee who deals with public works projects, worked with others to raise the university level $10 million while cutting MnSCU spending $13 million.

Howes’ bill includes $50 million that the state Department of Employment and Economic Development can hand out for economic development uses. He said it could be used projects such as those often including in the bonding bill, including civic centers that were not included in this year’s bill.

“This was a way that greater Minnesota communities, who many times don’t have lobbyists to speak for them, can go through DEED and get the money,” Howes said.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, praised the bill for spending $30 million for flood prevention.

It “will go a long way … protecting our cities and communities from 100-year flood,” Marquart said.

Some were not so happy. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, complained that the bill does not include money to fight Asian carp.

“We’re saying we are going to give the carp another year to get up the Mississippi,” she said about the fish that eat so much food as to leave native species wanting.

Fees could rise to fund outdoors programs

Many legislators are thinking about the outdoors while working inside the Minnesota Capitol.

Many want to allow gray wolf hunting, expand a fight against invading Asian carp and make other changes in outdoors-related laws. Among those changes could be raising hunting and fishing licenses to pay for other outdoors needs.

“Hunting and fishing licenses have gone 11 years with no real increase,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, who chairs the House environment committee.

Minnesota’s Game and Fish Fund is expected to be in debt by 2013 if nothing changes. Increasing fees could help balance the fund, said McNamara, R-Hastings.

Fee increases on boat licenses to help fight invasive aquatic species also are being considered, McNamara said. Most revenue for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ invasive species account comes from surcharges on watercraft and non-resident fishing licenses.

Legislators need to work with the DNR to determine how much the hike should be based on what they want the agency to do, said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored the fee increase bill. Needed funding will vary depending on the level of aquatic invasive species prevention and enforcement, DNR officials said.

McNamara’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, also wants to raise fees. “There is nothing wrong with doing the right thing in an election year.”

Fighting invasions such as by Asian carp, one species of which is known to jump out of rivers and hit boaters, takes money, the senator said. “We are going to have to look at raising fees to pay for that.”

Zebra mussel is another invasive species particularly troublesome in Ingebrigtsen’s lakes area.

“The voting public are the ones that are carrying zebra mussels from one state to another,” he said, adding that Minnesota cannot wait for the federal government to act against invasive species.

Controlling the migration of Asian carp into the area will remain a high priority, McNamara said. The Legislature will search for ways to slow the movement of the fish, including installing electric barriers in rivers to stop the carp’s advance from the south.

Some legislators hope to establish a hunting and trapping season for the gray wolf. The animal was recently taken off the federal endangered species list in the Great Lakes region.

“We anticipate setting that up as a game animal and establishing parameters for hunting,” McNamara said.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, introduced a bill that would create a wolf hunting and trapping season. Sen. Tom Saxhaug, R-Grand Rapids, is the chief author of a senate counterpart. The DNR also proposed a bill of its own on the topic.

Minnesota has about 3,000 wolves, according to DNR. The population has been stable for a decade and needs to stay above 1,600 to ensure the species’ survival, the agency reported.

Part of the motivation for a wolf hunting and trapping season is that the animal has been a risk to livestock and has affected the deer population, Dill said.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, proposed allowing deer hunters to use a scope on their muzzle loaders. And he suggested that deer hunters north of U.S. 2 be allowed to leave portable deer stands on state property overnight, as well as opening more state lands to all-terrain vehicles.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, encouraged maintaining on-going clean-water efforts.

“The best use of our dollars right now is to keep our clean water clean,” said Howe, who previously served on the Clean Water Council.

Capitol notebook: Rare disease may get awareness week

Reps. Downey, Garofalo

A bill written to raise awareness of a rare disease that killed a southwest Minnesota boy is headed to the governor.

On the last day of the Legislature’s regular session, the Minnesota House voted 129-1 Monday in favor of creating Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week in the third full week of September each year. The Senate already passed the bill.

“This can affect anybody at any time,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said before the House vote.

Hamilton brought the bill up after the death of 1-year-old Leo, son of Andrew Nesseth and Lindsay Chapman of Jackson County. The boy died of the rare genetic disorder.

Mitochondria creates much of the energy a body needs, and diseases that affect it often are fatal. While mitochondrial disease usually impacts children, adults also can be affected.

Hamilton said tens of thousands of children have the disease.

Cheeseburger bill passes

The Legislature says Minnesotans can eat all the cheeseburgers they want, they just can’t sue because those greasy creations made them fat.

Senators passed the measure 34-31 late Sunday, days after the House voted in favor of it 76-56.

Officially known as the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, the bill now heads to the governor’s office for his signature or veto.

This is the first time in seven tries that Rep. Dean Urdahl’s bill has passed the Legislature. The Grove City Republican’s proposal does not allow lawsuits to be filed against companies by people who claim food or nonalcoholic drinks made them gain weight.

Invasive fight

Lawmakers have sent the governor a bill including provisions to fight invasive aquatic species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.

The House passed the bill 82-49 Monday over objections of Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and others who called the bill heavy handed on people like boaters. The bill requires boaters to clean their boats so invasive species cannot be moved from one body of water to another.

“This is the one step forward, four steps backward bill,” Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

DFLers fight redistricting

Democratic-Farmer-Laborites have asked federal and state courts to join a lawsuit about Minnesota’s redrawing of political district lines.

Sixteen DFLers from around the state, including Chairman Ken Martin, want to be part of existing lawsuits following last week’s Gov. Mark Dayton veto of Republican-written legislative and congressional redistricting maps.

“To gain partisan advantage, the Republican majorities did everything they could to avoid public comment and compromise, and pushed through biased and illogical maps,” said DFL Chair Martin. “Gov. Dayton rightly vetoed the gerrymandered maps that the Republicans steamrolled through the legislature. Now the focus shifts to the courts. We’ve retained a strong, experienced legal team to seek fair districts for the next decade of Minnesota elections.”

Among lawyers who will represent Democrats is Mac Elias, who became a familiar face working for 2008 Senate candidate Al Franken and 2010 Democrat governor candidate Mark Dayton in their recount battles.

Next year set

The Minnesota Legislature will have to return to work at some point, probably this summer, but has set its next regular session to begin on noon Jan. 24, 2012.

Legislative leaders say they plan to adjourn next year by April 4.

Earlier, the plan was not to convene until March.