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Legislative News and Views - Rep. John Burkel (R)

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Legislative Update from Rep. John Burkel

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Hello from the State Capitol,


This week, I wanted to talk about a topic that a good number of residents have reached out to share their opinion: the transfer of the White Earth State Forest land to the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.



Under this proposal, 43,000 acres of land would be transferred.


There have been plenty of concerns raised about the idea – including by Band members – about the potential impact of a transfer. For example, a transfer could mean the land is no longer subject to property taxation, meaning decreased revenues for the county and neighboring school districts.  As this relates to Upper Red Lake, some are concerned about a transfer eliminating access to their private property. Others fear they’ll no longer be able to access forest land they’ve been enjoying for years.


The bill recently received discussion in a Senate committee. An amendment was added to the legislation indicating the general public would still have access to the land. The issue becomes - years or decades down the road - if future tribal leadership decides it is no longer under any legal obligation to continue the process.


My concern is that bill sponsors are moving too quickly with this proposal. There are many different layers associated with any land transfer, and unfortunately, lawmakers from our area have more questions than answers at this point. My personal view is that all Minnesotans, whether they belong to the Band or not, should continue to have access to this land.



Your 1st Amendment rights took another hit this week. As I discussed in a previous update, in late February House Democrats voted down a measure that would restore a religious freedom provision that was deleted from state law last year. The proposal ensures religious organizations and faith-based schools can, among other things, hire teachers and ministers consistent with their mission and values.


Senate Democrats, who are also in the majority, had the opportunity to do something about this in its judiciary and public safety committee this week. Instead, they also voted along party lines to block the proposal, further confirming that in their minds, their political viewpoint is more important than your religious freedoms.


As Americans, we have the right to speak freely, the right to bear arms, and the right to worship as we wish. Over the past year, Democrats have come out against all three of these constitutional rights in some fashion. To me, this is truly alarming, and I hope everyone is beginning to take notice of what is happening under one party rule in Minnesota.



On Wednesday, the House Environment committee heard HF4420, a DNR policy bill which contained some troubling changes to how the elk population is managed in Kittson, Marshall, Roseau and Beltrami counties.  Current law puts prohibitions on the ability of the DNR to increase the size of the elk herd in our area. Increasing the size of the elk population creates an undue financial burden for farmers in our area. Farmers may claim damages but receive minimal compensation.  Many claims go unreported as the process is bulky and the claim maximum is $20,000 in crop damages and $1,800 for fence damage.  While damages may go unclaimed, recorded damages more than doubled from 2022 to 2023 due to the increase of the herd size and the damages they caused.  Removal of statute to not increase herd size will create an undue burden on Kittson, Marshall, Roseau, and Beltrami County grain and cattle farmers by allowing the Department of Natural Resources to set herd limits without proper research.  




National Ag Day

I always appreciate talking about the innovation and expertise that feeds the world. Special thanks to Shayne Isane and Bennett Osmonson for stopping by my office to visit. 



A long trip to St. Paul as well for Erik Younggren, Melissa Perry and Justin Osowski to visit about agricultural issues back home in District 1A.  



Thank you to all the members of the ag community for their advocacy down in St. Paul this past week!


Rural Electric Co-ops in St. Paul

I was able to address our rural electric co-ops with Senator Mark Johnson this week as they made their way down to St. Paul to address legislation concerning to our member owned electricity providers. 



Electric cooperatives are community focused organizations that provide safe and reliable power to their members, and we need to continue to foster an energy policy that provides for affordable grid reliability and local governance in northwest Minnesota.


Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities

Enjoyed catching up with Mayor Brian Holmer and Mark Borseth from the city of Thief River Falls as well as a contingent from East Grand Forks as the CGMC were in town for their Legislative Action Day.  



The focus of our discussion was on local infrastructure and transportation needs along with housing and childcare solutions in our region.