2015 Legislative OutcomesPublished by forester on Tue, 06/30/2015 - 07:59
This legislative session, despite a nearly $2 billion budget surplus, many Omnibus Bills were pushed back until the final moments of the Constitutional deadline. In the end a handful of budget bills that were passed in these final moments were vetoed by Governor Dayton, including the Environment Bill, which contained language to address Aquatic Invasive Species.
Some Conference Committee reports, like taxes, never made it to Governor Dayton’s desk. Therefore no action on language changing the State General Tax on cabins and commercial/industrial property and school funding, or language that removed the sales tax for non-profits doing AIS management on lakes. Likewise, no action was taken on the Sustainable Forestry Incentive Act or establishing incentives for shoreline protection or restoration. This was a lost opportunity.
At the end of May and into June, Governor Dayton, Speaker Daudt, and Senate Majority Leader Bakk met to address Governor Dayton's concerns and craft a compromise to address them in order to prevent a shutdown of some areas of government, like the State Parks, the MPCA and other governmental functions funded by the vetoed budget bills.
With these compromises in hand, the Legislature met briefly in a special session called by the Governor on Friday, June 12th and passed the legislation, which was signed by the governor on June 13th.
Local $10 million County AIS Prevention Aid Unchanged
At the start of the session bills were introduced in both the House and the Senate that would have repealed the County AIS Prevention Aid put in place by the Legislature last year. MLR members, Lake Associations and County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLAs) flooded the Legislature with nearly 2,500 emails shortly after they were introduced. The MLR Facebook page had over 4,000 hits in three days on this issue. Public reaction to these repeal bills was immediate and overwhelming.
The bills to repeal this critical tool in fighting AIS within the Counties were dropped and neither came to a vote in their committees. The vigilance, hard work and passion of so many people who care about Minnesota's lakes and rivers was evidence of the good work that is starting as a result of this funding mechanism.
Schools in Crow Wing County, led by their task force, have educated 700 Jr. High school students in a two day, hands on course on AIS and best management practices which includes a day of activities in the gym and a day on the water working with AIS out in the field. There are plans to expand the program.
AIS infested boats in counties across the state have been stopped before launching by inspectors funded with this appropriation. These lakes remain zebra mussel free as a result.
Dozens of Counties that had no AIS program in the past are now developing programs and getting them up and running.
Counties adjacent to Itasca State park, concerned that the MN DNR lacked budget for inspection/decontamination at the headwaters to the Mississippi River pooled funding and ensured that the waters in this iconic State Park, and the waters downstream are protected.
Regional meetings of Counties, facilitated by DNR planners, have been held across the state at which Counties and private sector partners are building greater communication, consistency and competence in AIS work.
The Pacific Northwest Economic Region has invited Jeff Forester, Executive Director of MLR, to speak at their Annual Meeting in July to present this program and its impacts.
There will be no disruption to the County AIS Prevention Aid Program. County Governmental Units and their Lake Association partners will continue to build out programs and best management practices that are protecting our lakes and lowering the risk of AIS spread within Minnesota.
Mandatory, Certified Decontamination
The main goal of an Aquatic Invasive Species program to to prevent the spread of AIS like zebra mussels from one lake to the next. That means making sure that no infested watercraft or equipment is put into a clean lake or river.
Under current law, when an infested boat is identified, enforcement officers or inspectors cannot order decontamination, even if there is a decon unit on site. New changes in the Environment Bill allow officers to order contaminated watercraft or equipment to be decontaminated at the decon unit on site if available. Or they can "tag" and issue a notice that specifies a time frame for completing the removal or decontamination and re-inspection of the boat or equipment in a specified time frame.
In 2012 the legislature passed language requiring all trailers to display a sticker as proof that the owner had taken a short online course about Minnesota’s AIS laws and Best Management Practices and passed a test. The law was set to take effect July 1, 2015. This sticker was to be required on all trailers, even those from out of state, that were on public roadways. At the opening of the legislative session a number of bills were put forth to repeal this requirement. MLR Executive Director Jeff Forester testified in both the House and the Senate that with a violation rate of near 20%, and accelerating infestation rate, more education, not less, was required. The legislature settled on a compromise.
Legislation passed this year replaces the trailer decal language with language requires that educational materials be provided when a boat is registered in Minnesota, or a non-resident fishing license is sold. The purchaser must sign an “affirmation” that they have received and understand Minnesota’s AIS laws and Best Management Practices. These “affirmations” are part of the fishing license or the card required to be kept with boat registration materials and must be available for inspection by conservation officers. The penalty for non-compliance is $25.