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Definitions matter

Published (5/13/2010)
By Sue Hegarty
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Sen. Ellen Anderson, from left, and Rep. Mary Murphy, co-chairs of the conference committee dealing with Legacy Funds, listen to testimony May 12 along with House conferees Rep. Will Morgan, Rep. Jean Wagenius, Rep. Rick Hansen and Rep. Greg Davids. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Interpreting the constitutional will of the voters became a key issue in discussion of the omnibus environment, energy and natural resources policy and finance bill, which includes how to spend the outdoor heritage funds.

Shortly after midnight on May 13, the House passed the conference committee report on HF3702/ SF3275*, sponsored by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls), 107-25. The Senate re-passed the bill 59-7 May 12. It awaits action by the governor.

The outdoor heritage funds appropriated in the bill may be used “only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife,” according to the 2008 constitutional amendment approved by voters. The House modified those definitions in a bill they passed last week and included acquisition as part of the definition to protect wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat.

But several legislators and stakeholders argued that the new definitions were not thoroughly vetted, may be legally challenged and should be repealed. On May 12, a conference committee agreed to repeal the definitions, drop the House modifications and let the constitutional amendment speak for itself.

“We decided that even though we did a lot of work last week in moving toward acceptable definitions, the Senate wasn’t there, so that was hardly fair. We decided that, yes indeed, the suggestion that we could drop the definitions that we had established in law … that we would drop them if indeed the Outdoor Heritage Council would stop using their definitions. Chairman (Mike) Kilgore agreed,” said Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), who chairs the House Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division, which the provisions flowed through. “We are going to use … the definitions that were contained therein in the constitutional amendment that the people of Minnesota voted for. We think those are definitions that are narrow enough or broad enough to satisfy any proposal that comes before the council to talk about.”

“It kind of reminds us that the constitution — those really are the words that we need to all follow — and we’ll use our very best judgment to interpret it,” Senate sponsor Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul) said.

Another issue centered on whether to keep a $6.8 million appropriation to acquire Re-invest in Minnesota conservation easements with outdoor heritage funds. The constitution requires the funds be used to supplement, rather than supplant, traditional sources of funding. However, the traditional source — $25 million for RIM in the bonding bill — was line-item vetoed March 14 by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Without the traditional funding, several legislators questioned the legality of the outdoor heritage funding for RIM.

“I have trouble with that,” said Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley).

The appropriation remains in the omnibus bill. Murphy said it was a shame to leave matching federal dollars “on the table” due to the governor’s veto.

A provision eliminated from the bill brought one House member to tears.

Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) said she was “angry” that a proposed moratorium on the expanded use of the 3M incinerator was removed from the bill. The Maplewood company has asked the Pollution Control Agency for permission to burn waste other than its own, such as unwanted pharmaceuticals, at its Cottage Grove plant. The company and the City of Cottage Grove have reached an agreement that 3M would pay for air monitoring if allowed to continue the permitting process. Bigham was angry that her constituents won’t be allowed to voice their concerns on the record through a public comment process.

The law would also provide $800,000 of supplemental money to add staff to the Public Utilities Commission and expand representation on the Metropolitan Area Water Supply Advisory Committee from seven counties to an 11-county area by adding gubernatorial appointees from Chisago, Isanti, Sherburne and Wright counties.

Several energy-related provisions are in the bill. Two would tap into the Renewable Development Fund, which traditionally has been allocated through a competitive grant process. Xcel Energy pays into the fund annually based on the amount of nuclear waste it stores at its two power plants.

A $21 million RDF appropriation would allow Xcel Energy customers to receive rebates on the installation of solar modules. Sponsored by Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), the provision would require that only solar modules manufactured in Minnesota be used.

The other, sponsored by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls), would allocate $90,000 to study possible alternatives to the installation of a high-voltage transmission line along the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway. Contested evidentiary hearings for a certificate of need for the proposed transmission line would not be allowed prior to April 1, 2011.

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