Legislative Update: Buffers, property taxes and Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Property tax relief for farmers continues moving forward, there are new developments with buffer legislation and a Vikings linebacker expressed his support for ethanol. All of that, and more, in this week’s legislative update, so let’s get right to it:

Buffers
Let’s start this legislative update off the way we start most updates: With news about buffer legislation.

The House had two committee hearings on buffer legislation last week, one in the environment committee and one in the agriculture committee. The Senate environment committee is expected to hear the bill today.

Both the House and Senate version of the bill make important clarifying changes to the buffer law passed last session, including the exclusion of private ditches. The Senate version changes the timelines, the House version does not. I also expect amendments to be added that would clarify landowners could still enroll in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program.

If you’re interested, here’s the full House version of the bill and a story from House info on last week’s buffer bill hearing.

Property taxes
Property tax relief in farm country continues to move forward. To keep the momentum going, please keep visiting with your legislator on this important issue. Property tax relief is the No. 1 priority for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) this legislative session.

Rep. Paul Marquart’s stand-alone property tax relief bill on agriculture land was heard in the House property tax committee. The bill would provide farmers with a 50 percent credit for property taxes attributable to school bonds. This provision is also included in the House tax bill still in conference committee from last session.

Drainage legislation
Sen. Greg Claussen introduced a bill with new requirements for surface or tile drainage on farmland. The bill would require anyone installing drainage to have a wetlands replacement plan, a no-loss determination or an exemption determination issued by a local government. Local government would also need to determine the adequacy of the outlet.

As the bill stands now, MCGA does not support it. It appears that some of the bill’s requirements may be duplicative and already covered under current state and/or federal laws.

Farm groups who met with Sen. Claussen about the bill suggested he take it to the drainage work group, which is used to tackling complicated drainage issues and coming up with consensus recommendations with all stakeholders. The Environment Committee offered the same the suggestion and did not take action on the bill.

Elevator bankruptcy
Rep. Chris Swedzinski had a bill heard in the House agriculture policy committee that would create an indemnity fund in the event that a local grain elevator goes bankrupt. The fund would use an existing tax on grain bins (currently gong to the general fund) and also a new tax if the pot falls below a certain amount. It also includes a requirement to increase the grain buyer bond level.

The bill passed out of committee, but there were concerns about the bill. One of the issues raised was that there is voluntary insurance available to farmers to protect against the possibility of an elevator going bankrupt. The Minnesota Grain and Feed Association opposed the bill, other agriculture groups did not take a position, but had concerns with the approach of the bill.

I give credit to Rep. Swedzinski and other members for attempting to develop a feasible strategy to address this complicated issue.  It’s next stop in the House is the Civil Law Committee, then tax committee where the bill can receive further work. The bill was introduced last week in the Senate.

Minnesota River Congress
A bill was heard in the Senate Environment Committee that would direct the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR) to develop Minnesota river basin goals and strategies for reducing sediment, flow and nutrients. A committee to advise BWSR during this process would also be set up. Members of the Minnesota River Congress would also be required to be appointed to the advisory committee.

There wasn’t a consensus in the Senate environment committee for the bill and it was laid over for now. There also isn’t a House companion bill, although one could be filed this week. There probably isn’t enough traction for the bill to pass this year, but discussions will be ongoing and MCGA will continue to monitor them closely. This issue was discussed by Minnesota Corn farmers at our pre-resolutions and resolutions sessions this winter.

Working lands
Rep. Clark Johnson’s “Working Lands” bill, which was supported by MCGA, cruised through its first stops in the House and Senate.

Ditch mowing
A bill restricting ditch mowing passed the Senate Transportation committee. The bill states that a permit from MnDOT would be required to mow, hay, burn or till on a highway right of way. Road authorities would be able to mow the first 15 feet for transportation or safety purposes, but a person or road authority would only be able to mow, hay or till and entire right of way after Aug. 1 (there are a few exceptions).

MCGA opposes the bill, and continues to let lawmakers know about farmers’ concerns regarding this legislation.

Broadband
Broadband received the largest investment of $100 million in Gov. Dayton’s supplemental budget released last week. A House bill calls for $35 million in new broadband grants administered through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

In the Senate, a bill would use $100 million from the general fund for border to border broadband grants.

Ethanol and Chad Greenway
A big thank you to MCGA President Noah Hultgren and MCGA Executive Director for participating in last week’s POET Ethanol Day at the Capitol. Here are Noah and Adam talking ethanol (and cycling) with Vikings linebacker and ethanol advocate Chad Greenway.

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