Minnesota Waters 2019 Legislative Session Summary
Minnesota’s 2019 legislative session started with broad new spending and policy proposals but in the end, the outcomes were underwhelming. Budget agreements stalled behind closed door discussions, leaving conference committees at a standstill into the final days of the regular session. While leadership did agree to a budget before the end of the regular session, large omnibus bills were left unfinished resulting in a short special session.
We were able to advance the following policies to protect our lakes, rivers, and drinking water with the help of our lobby team, and you, our members, who reached out to your legislators.
Environment & Natural Resources Finance Omnibus Bill
In an effort to continue our fight against AIS, a new $5.60 surcharge on boat licenses was passed into law to help pay for AIS research and grant programs. The surcharge will be collected by the DNR and distributed to the University of Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and as management grants to local communities and lake associations. Operating budgets for the state agencies that protect and manage our natural resources were increased which will help protect our lakes, river, and streams.
Legacy Omnibus Bill
The recommendations of the councils that oversee the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Parks and Trails Fund, the Clean Water Fund and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund were largely followed in the final Legacy Omnibus Bill passed during the special session. The one significant change was cutting $24 million from the Clean Water Council recommendations to pay for operational funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
During the 2018 session, legislators approved $98 million in appropriation bonds to be paid for over 20 years by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. A number of conservation organizations sued claiming the appropriation bonds were an unconstitutional use of the Trust Fund. This year, legislators fixed this raid by passing a new bonding bill using general obligation bonds. The 2019 actions are more in line with the traditional uses of the Trust Fund and ensures the funds will be used as intended by voters.
Despite progress on many issues, some of our work was left incomplete. We will build on this year’s momentum by being ready to finish the job in 2020.
Items left unfinished include:
- Setting a statewide water quality goal so all of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers are swimmable and fishable by 2050
- Giving Soil and Water Conservation Districts tax levy authority
- Creating a buffer tax credit for perennial vegetation planted in compliance with the new riparian buffer law
- Creating a salt applicator certification program to limit chloride pollution in our lakes, rivers, and streams
- Progressing the work of a wild rice stewardship council as recommended by the Wild Rice Task Force and in collaboration with the Tribal Nations of Minnesota.