Legislative Update: Big bills, big issues in negotiations

2017 Minnesota Session

Minnesota House and Senate conference committee members continued their work this week to craft compromises in major legislation concerning taxes and the state budget, transportation and regulation, some of which will have an impact on the state’s farming sector.

BUFFER LAW

The voices of farmers and agriculture interests are being heard in St. Paul concerning the state’s buffer law and the Legislation designed to improve it. A recent InForum article discussed how local governments, farmers and ag organizations are still working to understand the law and its implications, even as farmers are headed into the field to plant this season’s crops. The current buffer law will go into effect on Nov. 1 but legislation currently proposed could delay its effective date for at least a year and provide greater clarity concerning public or private waters, compensation and other provisions.

Gov. Dayton has said he would veto any bill that delays the implementation of the buffer law, although he indicated this week he may be open to considering some changes in 2018 after implementation of the law is underway.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) has advocated for the need to clarify the law, address compensation for land removed from production and to push back implementation of the law. Due to the input from farmers and ag interests, legislation could become part of an end-of-session negotiation between legislative leaders and the Dayton administration.

WATER QUALITY

On April 19, a large group of activists gathered in St. Paul to voice opposition to legislation that they believe will weaken the state’s water quality regulation. Gov. Dayton spoke to those who attended and announced that the state will conduct a series of town hall meetings throughout the summer and fall to address the topic of water quality. The Environmental Quality Board has posted a schedule of the meetings.

In early February, Gov. Dayton announced his desire to improve Minnesota’s water quality by 25 percent by the year 2525. Rather than proposing a specific legislative agenda, like the buffer law of 2015, the governor stated he wants more of a “bottom-up” approach, enlisting people in a voluntary mission to improve the state’s water quality.

Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Harold Wolle said MCGA members appreciate the new approach and will support the 25/25 goal, noting it will be achieved through improved technologies. “It’s going to be precision application of our farm nutrients that will allow us to make the next big achievement in reducing pollutants in our water supply,” he said.

MCGA has also made it clear the state needs to address all issues and sources that impact water quality and not focus just on farmers.

TAX BILL

Regarding the omnibus tax bill, Gov. Dayton stated that he would veto any bill that contained school vouchers or any provisions that go beyond the traditional concept of private school vouchers. Provisions currently in the House and Senate tax bills would give tax breaks to people who donate to organizations that deliver private school scholarships. The Governor’s veto threat of the omnibus tax bill could impact the proposed tax credit that would reduce agriculture property taxes dedicated to school construction levies, along with other tax relief provisions.

BONDING BILL

The House of Representatives should release their proposed bonding bill in the next few days. Both Gov. Dayton and the Senate have released their funding proposals. The Governor’s bonding bill calls for $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds to be used to pay for infrastructure and other projects. The Senate’s bonding proposal seeks approximately $1 billion, including $272 million for roads and bridges. The Senate bill also calls for $2.8 million to build an Agriculture Lab and the construction of a kitchen for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. The bill is awaiting a floor vote.

PURDUE CONFIRMED

Following an administrative delay and the recent Congressional Spring Break, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture by a vote of 87 to 11. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was sworn in to office on April 25.

“As secretary, I will champion the concerns of farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers, and will work tirelessly to solve the issues facing our farm families,” Perdue said. He is a former farmer, agribusiness leader, veterinarian, state legislator and governor.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, said that he voted to confirm Purdue because he thought he could find common ground with him regarding the renewable fuel standard and other farm bill issues. Franken said he will urge Purdue to reject the President’s plan to cut the USDA’s budget by more than 20 percent.

National media reports indicated that Secretary Purdue and Commerce Secretary Ross were influential in convincing President Trump to moderate his position on NAFTA, with one of the arguments being the need to protect U.S. farm exports.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

Considering the importance of changes needed to the state’s water buffer law and tax relief, MCGA recommends that you contact your state senator and representative by email to express your opinions about these key issues. You can contact your House and Senate member by clicking here. To contact Gov. Dayton, you may use this online form. The voices of farmers do make a difference!

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