Legislative summary: Will Gov. Dayton veto agriculture and environment bill?

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff
Minnesota Corn Growers Association Policy Director

After a whirlwind end to the legislative session, we’re all left to wonder what bills Gov. Dayton will veto and when he will call a special session.

The Omnibus Environment and Agriculture Finance Bill contains many items important to Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) members. Here is a summary of those items, but remember, Gov. Dayton might veto the bill, which would send us back to the drawing board during a special session.

The governor has until Saturday to veto. Don’t be surprised if he makes a decision one way or the other sometime on Friday.

Buffers
Full details on the buffer legislation can be read in this post from earlier in the week. I encourage everyone to read it. In addition to that post, there are two other things you should know about the buffer legislation:

  • The funding for SWCDs was in the Legacy bill, which did not pass the Senate. However, Governor Dayton has stated that a Legacy bill should be part of a special session.
  • This Star Tribune story about the DNR having enforcement authority in the new buffer language is wrong.¬†Enforcement will be handled locally, not by the DNR.

Agriculture productivity research
This priority, which provides funding for ag research, rapid response and education, receives $13 million in fiscal years 2016-17 and $17 million in fiscal years 2018-19. All funding will go through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), which must consult with an advisory panel that includes MCGA before awarding funding.

Bioeconomy bill
We’re off to a great start with this program. Funding levels are $500,000 for fiscal year 2016 and $1.5 million in fiscal year 2017. Funding will come from the repurposing of AGRI funds to be spent on production incentives. Even better news is that there will be base funding for the Bioeconomy program in future years. Policy language in the bill puts a cap of $3 million on sugar-based products, $6 million on cellulosic projects and $150,000 per project for biomass thermal, meaning that we can focus on getting additional funding for the program in later years without having to make policy changes.

MPCA Citizen’s Board reform
The citizen’s board is gone. However, this is one of the main hangups as the governor considers whether to veto the entire bill. In today’s¬†Star Tribune, letter writers were out in full force bemoaning the loss of the board.

Ag nuisance lawsuit reform
A study on the impact of ag nuisance lawsuits on the livestock and poultry industry is due to the legislature by February of 2016.

Fertilizer research and education
The 40 cent fee, along with an inspection fee that was raised from 30 to 39 cents, used to fund the Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Council (AFREC) now goes into a new agriculture fertilizer account at MDA. Of these funds, the MDA commissioner is allowed to use $80,000 for fiscal and administrative costs and to recover indirect costs. The rest of the funds are directed to be used on research and education.

Irrigation
Farmers applying for a groundwater permit no longer have to do their own inventory of existing wells in the area. Agencies (like the Minnesota Department of Health) already have this information, so it isn’t necessary. If there is a well interference claim, it must be dismissed if the well is sealed prior to investigating the complaint. The DNR will also issue a report to the legislature with recommendations and thresholds for negative impacts of irrigation to surface waters, including groundwater appropriations (irrigation). This report will include input from stakeholders, including agriculture.

Taxes
Unfortunately, the governor and legislative leaders could not come together and pass a tax bill. This is very disappointing to farmers, since there were important agriculture property tax relief objectives contained in tax bills. Hopefully these provisions are re-visited when the legislature returns next year (I doubt they will be addressed in the upcoming special session).

Transportation
With the exception of a “lights on” bill to keep MNDOT funded for the next two years, major transportation funding and changes were left for next session.Not included in the bill were penalties for mowing ditches before Aug. 1 that you may have heard rumblings about.

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