2023 Legislative Outcomes – Remarkable Progress

2023 Legislative Outcomes – Gains Made in Advancing Clean Water and Property Tax Relief on Shorelands

St. Paul, 6:30 PM, May 18th, 2023 – Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates’ (MLR) professional lobbying and the grassroots advocacy of lake associations and MLR members combined to promote passage of the sweeping 450 page Environment and Natural Resources Conference Committee Report, HF 2310. Supporters recognize the package as, “the most significant in Minnesota History.”

MLR has led professional lobbying at the capitol since 1994. Never have the stakes been higher. After years of unspent revenues due to legislative gridlock, billions in unpent federal Covid relief and a strengthening economy, Minnesota had a $17.8 billion budget surplus. This drew a stampede of special interest lobbyists pushing for a spot at the trough.

The competition for space on the legislative agenda was intense.

In addition, the 2023 Legislative Session followed a once a decade census with new legislative districts and every state elected official up for election. Thirty five percent of Minnesota’s State Representatives were new to the Minnesota House, and 36% of elected Senators had never served in the Senate before. The need to educate these newly elected legislators was huge.

As former legislator Darby Nelson said, “From practical experience I can tell you that legislators lead very, very busy lives. They can’t know everything about everything. That’s where lobbyists and constituents play very, very important roles.”

Unfortunately, not only was MLR unable to hire additional lobbying support at this moment, but we also had to cut our media and communications support. Executive Director Jeff Forester stepped away from important administrative tasks in order to spend many more hours in St. Paul meeting with legislators, other lobbyists and agency personnel. He did communications and media work.

MLR needs your support so that it can increase its lobbying and advocacy efforts on behalf of the lakes we love. If you are a non-resident property owner, MLR is the only voice you have in Minnesota.

“In the end, we are very pleased with the outcomes,” said Forester, “but this session was not a sustainable model for success. If we want to protect our lakes and rivers going forward, job number one is to increase our membership base so that we can build a sustainable water quality advocacy effort. I ask every MLR member who cares about our mission to join us in asking everyone who benefits from MLR to become a contributing member.

Working with our partners, MLR had a large and aspirational legislative agenda. We worked in two specific areas, to reduce the property tax pressure on shoreland property and to protect and restore lakes and rivers in Minnesota.

Property Tax Relief

The Tax package provided a variety of measures that should help lower the property tax pressure on shoreline:

The legislature provided an $80m increase in County Program Aid to offset property taxes each year (base increase). They also increased payment in lieu of taxes, (PILT) for counties with high public land ownership to $9.3m. PILT provides support for local governments with untaxable public lands in their boundaries.

The Legislature increased the homestead market value credit which will help reduce the tax burden on homestead properties, on lake shore or in town. The average age of a lake home and cabin owner in Minnesota is 63 years old, and so we are happy to report that the tax bill passed by the legislature excludes Social Security from income tax under $100,000.

And finally, Soil and Water Conservation Districts are largely funded by local property tax revenues even though they protect the state’s public waters. The tax bill passed this session includes $15 million in aid to support Soil and Waster Conservation Districts.

The Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Conference Committee Report

The final Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Conference Committee Report accomplished many of our long time goals.

House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Chair, Rep. Rick Hansen said, during his closing arguments on the House floor, “A number of provisions in this bill have been waiting a very long time…. But we started to crack the regulatory capture that does exist in this state, and that happens with the people,” not the special interests. As the bill was initially released, Rep. Rick Hansen said, “It’s a proposal that corrects past wrongs, recognizes the present and prepares for the future,” Hansen said, adding the bill is about problem-solving. “There are topics here we have discussed for many years that it provides solution for,” according to the Minnesota House of Representatives Daily.

DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen testifies before the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee March 28 in favor of HF2310, the committee’s omnibus budget bill. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

Earlier in the session the Legislature passed an authorization to send a ballot measure to voters to re-establish the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, LCCMR, which dedicates proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery to the Environment. The LCCMR reviews hundreds of Environmentally focused grant requests each year. Much of the funding for research at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center has been approved by the LCCMR and funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, ENRTF. In 2021 the ENRTF funded the installation of over 20 boat cleaning stations at accesses infested with starry stonewort. This year the LCCMR approved a grant request by the St. Anthony Falls Lab to study the impacts of wakes and prop thrust on lake ecology. 

Without this authorization, the LCCMR and ENRTF would have expired in 2025. In recent years this re-authorization had become a political football. Earlier this session the Legislature also re-authorized the Legislative Water Commission, which provides a year round forum to investigate and address water issues in Minnesota. In recent years the Legislative Water Commission has taken up a number of lake issues, including shoreline protection and runoff pollution. This forum is invaluable to the larger agenda of clean and healthy lakes and rivers in Minnesota.

Aquatic Invasive Species Funding and Policy

Since 2009, MLR has recognized that no organization can execute a successful AIS program in isolation. Lake associations, local governments and MN DNR are all spending millions annually and have a role in AIS prevention. For the last decade MLR has advocated for a comprehensive statewide plan, with the input of all significant partners, including lake associations, to organize and leverage programs and capacities. 

This year the Legislature agreed that Minnesota needs a comprehensive statewide plan to prevent the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species, AIS. HF 2310 requires the MN DNR, by December 31st, 2023, and every five years after that, work with, “lake associations, local citizen groups, and local units of government​ in the development and implementation,”of a comprehensive statewide AIS management plan. 

Minnesota invests millions of dollars annually to provide inspection at our watercraft access sites in order to find the few that are infested with AIS. But once we find these few infested watercraft, we fail to ensure that the boat or water related equipment is fully decontaminated. Current law stated that an AIS inspector could only order a decontamination of a watercraft if a decontamination unit was available on site. Otherwise the inspector refuses launch at that site and leaves the decontamination up to the boat owner. We spend millions finding a needle in a haystack, and once we find one, we toss it back in the haystack.

Language in HF 2310 provides authority for a conservation officer, licensed peace officer or AIS inspector to prevent launch of infested water related equipment and order decontamination even if there is no decon unit on-site. This simple language is perhaps the biggest step forward in AIS management since eurasian watermilfoil was first discovered in Lake Minnetonka.

In addition to strong policy proposals HF 2310 also provides direct funding for the MN DNR AIS program with appropriations of $7,053,000 the first year and $7,053,000 the second year of the biennium. The bill also provides $1,718,000 to increase AIS enforcement each year of the biennium.

Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center

Starting in 2012, Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates began working with Dr. Peter Sorenson to establish what would become the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, MAISRC. Funding for the MAISRC and its programs has mostly been provided by grants from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund using proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery. While we were unsuccessful in convincing legislators to establish a reliable and ongoing funding stream for AIS research, they did commit an additional sum of about $3 million over the next biennium, base funding of $2m for MAISRC, plus an additional $1m for  Labs to Lakes. The legislation also provides $1.7m for Invasive Carp control measures.

Other Lake and River Priorities

In addition, HF 2310 addresses many other lake and river issues that have been lingering, some for many years, without action at the Minnesota Legislature. Many of these measures have been priorities for lake associations and lake home and cabin owners. Over the next few months we will provide greater detail about these measures and the specifics of the laws. Given the number of measures passed we wanted to get share the good news as quickly as possible. The Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Funding Conference Committee Report:

  • Creates a watercraft operators education and certification requirement to increase boater safety, reduce user conflicts, and advance Best Practices to prevent resource degradation due to poor wake and prop thrust management.
  • Outlaws storing garbage and other waste on ice outside fish houses,
  • Funds an interdisciplinary team at the University of Minnesota to model the quality and quantity of Minnesota’s water resources 50 years in the future,
  • Spends $2 million the first year and $2 million the second year for Lawns to Legumes which can be used to help owners install native shoreline buffers,
  • Ends commercial turtle harvest in Minnesota,
  • Provides $1 million for Get the Lead Out programs and lead tackle prohibition on designated swan and loon reproduction lakes in the metro area,
  • Provides for biosecure bait importation into Minnesota to address minor shortages,
  • Provides funding for study and management of native “rough” fishes, including the bigmouth buffalo fish, a native that can live over 100 years,
  • Provides $35 million to upgrade Minnesota’s watercraft accesses and include AIS prevention features,
  • Study and mitigation of recent large scale fish kill events in Minnesota,
  • Provides funding for AIS or water quality projects to Stearns COLA, Lake Alice, French Lake, and Round Lake,

HF 2310 addresses declining surface waters in Minnesota by:

  • $25 million investment to study and mitigate PFAS, the forever chemicals that have been linked to significant health impacts, including cancer in children,
  • Investments over $10 million each year of the biennium in soil health programs to reduce runoff pollution and increase aquifer recharge,
  • Dedicates $3,116,000 each year of the biennium for local Soil and Water Conservation District efforts,
  • Invests $8,500,000 each year of the biennium in water quality and storage projects to prevent flooding and runoff impacts,
  • Addresses micro and nano plastic pollution in our lakes and rivers,
  • Provides increased training and mitigation for salt applicators,
  • Provides greater authority for groundwater pumping permits and provides for penalties of up to $40,000 for groundwater permit violations.

Reading through the 445 page bill, it is hard not to recognize that the legislation not only resolves many chronic ecological issues like Chronic Wasting Disease or PFAS pollution in water, but also integrates environmental efforts moving forward. For instance not only are there clean water provisions, but also soil health and reforestation initiatives. Soil erosion and deforestation are two significant contributors to declining lake and river health.

Every member of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates has contributed to this success by providing financial support for our efforts. Each one of you who has written emails, made phone calls, sent letters and posted about these issues on social media has played an important role in advancing these legislative initiatives and protecting our lakes and rivers. When a broad base of citizens coordinates their efforts, significant progress can be made. Thank you for all you have done. Our lakes and rivers deserve our efforts.