Legislative update: What's happening in St. Paul and Washington D.C. while farmers are planting?

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

It sounds like planting progress is moving full speed ahead out in farm country. In St. Paul, the legislative session also continues churning forward. Here is a quick farm-focused legislative update to peruse while you’re in the tractor planting.

Buffer bill passes
Last week the House voted to pass a bill that clarifies several items in the buffer bill passed last year. The bill already unanimously passed the Senate, and is awaiting Gov. Dayton’s signature. He’s said that he will sign the bill. The House passed it 105-24.

This Pioneer Press story has more information on what was clarified in the new buffer bill. It also has a map on how each state representative voted. Keep checking MinnesotaCornerstone.com throughout the week. We’ll have our own post that (hopefully) answer farmers’ questions about the original buffer bill last session and the buffer clarification bill passed last week.

Property taxes
Nothing new to report here. There is still bi-partisan support to pass a tax bill this session that contains property tax relief for farmers. Now it’s just a matter of getting it done.

Ag and Environment bills
The Agriculture and Environment supplemental budget bills are winding their way through the legislative process. In the House ag bill, some adjustments are made to avian flu funding. Other pending measures include funding for an agriculture emergency fund, new equipment and instruments for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, $1.8 million to the University of Minnesota to assist veterinarians with disease testing, and $250,000 for a pilot tractor rollover protection program.

These aren’t major provisions or changes, but we monitor and track anything and everything related to agriculture here at MCGA. If necessary, we speak up to ensure that provisions in a bill like this one are best for Minnesota corn farmers and all of agriculture. 

Broadband
Once again, broadband received a fair amount of attention last week. Of course, democrats and republicans have differing views on what will be best for rural Minnesota when it comes to broadband. Republicans are proposing $35 million to fund broadband hot spots for students and leverage federal grants to reach underserved areas. Democrats have targeted $85 million to address broadband issues.

More on the broadband discussion can be read in this AP story.

Thoughts on the current session
Most legislative sessions don’t resolve the large ticket items (think property taxes and transportation) until the final days, as agreement on these subjects become a larger overall deal reached by legislative leaders and the Governor. A tax bill and transportation bill aren’t something that they “have” to pass in order to keep the government running, but one could argue that the public and legislators expect these items from the legislature this year.

As we go into an election year where the entire House and Senate are up for reelection, we’ll see how much compromise the House GOP majority, the Senate DFL, and Governor Dayton can find in the last 30 days or so of the legislative session.

WOTUS legal battle
On the federal side, the Senate again attempted to pass a Waters of the United States (WOTUS) amendment that would have prohibited the use of funds by the Army Corps of Engineers for activities related to the WOTUS rule. It failed by four votes.

Also last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for a rehearing submitted by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and others. The cases against WOTUS will remain in the 6th Circuit, and the court’s injunction against the rule remains in place. NCGA is reviewing its options with the attorneys in terms of proceeding with the case, or petitioning the Supreme Court for final word on where cases against WOTUS belong.

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