May 25th, Legislative Update - What Happened Anyway?

This Legislative Session was short, just 11 weeks and it is an election year, which further complicated the process. MLR began the year with low expectations and we were not disappointed. Minnesota’s 2016 Legislative Session ended in chaos. A number of important pieces of legislation simply died because the clock ran out.

But perhaps the best outcome of the 2016 Legislative Session was the change in tone at the legislature with regard to lake associations and lake shore residents.

In the 1990s and early 2000s there was a narrative at the legislature that lake home and cabin owners were wealthy complainers, that, “If you can afford a lake home or cabin, then you can afford to pay the taxes,” or that lake shore property owners felt they owned the lakes and just wanted to shut the public off of them.

Some still promote this false narrative. But this session new voices spoke up. Legislators from both parties told a different story. Legislators from both parties and in both bodies recognized the huge commitment and service lake associations provide to the state. They endorsed the intelligence, the hard work, the generous financial support and the remarkable experience that lake associations are bringing to lake protection work and local communities, whether it be AIS, sport fishing, shoreline protection, agricultural issues or footing the bill for July 4th Celebrations.

Governor Dayton has yet to take final action on bills that concern us. He could veto those bills and call for a special session.  Here is where things stand as of May 25th, 2016, three days after the end of session.

Supplemental Budget Bill:  DNR AIS Language, Governor Dayton has yet to take final action. It would:

  • Create a two year Lake Minnetonka Pilot Study, allowing the commissioner to issue an additional permit to service providers to remove and then return to Lake Minnetonka water-related equipment with zebra mussels attached after the equipment has been seasonally stored, serviced, or repaired. This should create efficiencies for marina owners, and savings for boat owners without increasing the risk of AIS spread.
  • Clarify that boats transported on a conveyance between adjacent water bodies must meet the same "Clean, drain, and dispose" standards that apply to watercraft transported on a trailer.

  • Establishes civil penalties for those who refuse to comply with a decontamination order.

  • Adds "micro alga,” to the list of designated aquatic invasive species - an important change given the discovery of the state's first infestation of starry stonewort in Lake Koronis in the summer of 2015.

  • Creates a $200,000 grant for Lake Koronis to help fund their Starry Stonewort management program.

Other important  language was included in the Tax Bill. This also made it to the governor, and awaits his final action.

  • $600,000 to the MN DNR. This should free up funding for the MN DNR to fund their grants for lake associations to do AIS inspection, education/communication and invasive aquatic plant management.

Sustainable Forestry Incentive Act - SFIA

There are strong water quality benefits for having a good forestry program in place. SFIA has been incredibly successful with more than 150,000 enrolled. For writing a sustainable forestry plan for their land, and signing an 8 year covenant to implement the plan and not develop the land for residential purposes, the landowner received a $7 per acre incentive.

The Tax Bill, which has not yet been signed by Governor Dayton, improves upon SFIA, extending the duration of the covenant, clarifying how the Forest Plan and covenant is transferred and maintained when a parcel is sold, and linking the payment to property tax burden instead of a straight per acre payment. If this bill becomes law, MLR will put out the specifics.

What did NOT happen:

  • State General Tax relief for Cabins was not included in the tax bill,

  • Changes to how Vacation Home rentals are licensed did not materialize,

  • There was no sales tax relief for Lake Associations doing management for invasive aquatic plants.

Muskies

Senator Ingebritsen (SF 3059) and Rep. Anderson (HF 3207) both introduced legislation that would have either blocked muskie stocking into the proposed lakes (HF 3207), or would have ended the expansion of muskie into any additional lakes or rivers (SF 3059). The House included their muskie language in its Game and Fish bill, HF 2844 (Hackbarth).  On the House floor, and amendment that would have stripped the language limiting muskie stocking failed by a 62/63 bipartisan vote.

In the Senate the vote was also close, but in the end the muskie language survived.

Time expired before a conference committee could reconcile the House and Senate bills.  Current law will prevail and there have been no legislative changes to the muskie stocking program in MN.

The controversy surrounding muskie stocking will continue. Otter Tail County lake associations are working to expand an advocacy base to oppose muskie stocking in Minnesota, and Muskie’s Inc. a national proponent of muskie fishing, is ramping up its advocacy efforts as well. But most importantly, it is clear that a large segment of the population, including Legislators, has lost confidence in both MN DNR science and the public input process.

There is a need to do conclusive science on the impacts of muskie stocking. Without conclusive science that is above accusations of bias, there can be no resolution. Additionally, without a civic governance process that builds trust between all stakeholders, the legislative push and pull surrounding muskies will continue.

For More on the game and Fish Bill, see the Pioneer Press story, “No blaze pink, but lead ammo band, muskie stocking are a go.

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