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Environment committee approves changes to distribution of lottery sales funds, LCCMR composition

During recent House floor debates, it was suggested reform was needed of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Two Monday committee votes have begun the process.

Per its website, “The function of the LCCMR is to make funding recommendations to the legislature for special environment and natural resource projects, primarily from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.”

Established by state voters in 1988, the fund has provided approximately $875 million in state lottery proceeds to nearly 1,800 projects around the state since 1991.

Sponsored by Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL-St. Paul), HF4649, as amended, would include a constitutional amendment to be added to the November ballot that would change the funding levels and establish a new housing fund with the proceeds. It was approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee on a 10-7 party-line vote and referred to the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee.

“We know that the way we are building housing right now and the way we’re constructing housing isn’t sustainable over the long term,” Hollins said. “If you want to talk about what impacts our environment and our natural resources, the way we do housing impacts our natural resources and our environment. It is my goal to make sure that we can preserve and protect as much of our green space as possible. I think working on sustainability in housing as well as continuing to fund this Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is incredibly important. They work hand in hand.”

Currently, 40% of the funds from the proceeds from the state lottery goes to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Money can only be spent on the “protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state's air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.” Remaining proceeds go to the state’s General Fund.

The bill would increase the trust fund total to 50%, and would propose an amendment to voters to have the remaining go to a new housing fund program. The bill would also extend the proceeds from the lottery going to the respective funds from 2024 to 2050.

“We all can agree that the current system isn’t working; we don’t have enough housing for people,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville). “To see that combined with what we already know is a really good program with the projects that are funded through LCCMR, I think, is just a really innovative way to approach this.”

Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) took issue with timeliness of adding the bill late after the committee had wrapped up much of its work, and the possibility of squeezing in the changes so late in the session.

“The minority is sitting here wondering what the heck we’re doing here today,” Heintzeman said. “Maybe this could go to the housing committee since you’re just going to be flailing and throwing this around as though this is business as normal.”


Changes to LCCMR proposed

How to best use the funds has also come under scrutiny because the LCCMR has had trouble in recent years being able to necessary reach a supermajority. The commission didn’t make a formal recommendation this year because it didn’t reach the needed 12 votes of the 17-member commission.

The House passed HF3765 on April 21 by a 72-60 vote based on the package that received the most votes from the LCCMR.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), HF4850, as amended, would alter the commission’s makeup so it is comprised of nine citizens, all appointed by the governor with one member from each congressional district along with one member from tribal governments recommended by the Indian Affairs Council. There would also be four legislators on the commission, two from each body and two from each major caucus.

The bill passed by a 10-7 party-line vote Monday and was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The topic of reform was broached during the floor debate on HF3765 by Hansen and Heintzeman.

“I believe part of what has been the challenge with the LCCMR has been partisanship,” Hansen said Monday. “The reforms that were done nearly 20 years ago may have worked for a time but are not working now. What this bill does is, instead of having a legislative majority having a majority of legislators from that house on the commission, it would have two members from each party in each house. … It would be a true commission format and that those members would be picked by their respective caucuses, so you don’t have the majority caucus picking the members of the minority caucus to serve on the commission. This would have a net effect of reducing the number of legislators on the commission.”

The bill would stagger terms for the citizens on the commission, with four members’ terms ending in January of 2025 and five ending in January of 2027.

“After sitting on the LCCMR for seven years, it’s pretty obvious that the entrenched members of the commission have taken over ownership and I don’t think that was the intention when the LCCMR was set up (for the) ENRTF,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls). “The legislators are term limited by the fact that they have to seek reelection and then, especially with this legislation, that they have to be picked by the caucus, so that’s two reasons right there where the legislator’s part of this would be term limited. But overall, we need to reform the process.”

Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) sponsors both companion bills: SF4131, which awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee, and SF4578, which awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

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