Following a weeklong break, legislators returned to the capitol today and got back to work on what’s turning out to be one of the busiest legislative sessions in recent memory. Legislators still have a flurry of issues to work through, ranging from bonding and taxes to school safety and transportation. It’s in that busy climate that a number of park and trail projects are moving forward (for good and bad, which we’ll get to in a moment).
As the legislative session enters crunch time leading up to the May 21 adjournment deadline, Parks & Trails Council will be sending out weekly updates to keep you informed of happenings at the capitol. Below we’ve included a summary of the legislative session thus far, plus what to expect in the coming weeks.
A set of bills are making their way through the legislative process this session that would erode the definition of Minnesota State Parks. Early in session the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee heard HF 3142, which would mandate the DNR to allow all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to use the campgrounds and access routes in Hayes Lake State Park and Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground State Park. Typically, when laws governing state park policies are changed, they are done so through a process called “rulemaking” which allows for managerial, public, and judicial review. Because HF 3142 exempts the change from the rulemaking process, the bill was reintroduced as HF 4211 and sent to the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee, where it was passed by a 11-5 vote. Unfortunately, we expect the bill will continue moving through the legislative process and we expect it to eventually be included in a House omnibus bill.
Thus far, the change to allow ATVs in the two state parks has received more support in the House than in the Senate. The Senate companion bill (SF 3063) didn’t receive a hearing and, as yet, hasn’t been included in a Senate omnibus bill. There is still time for that to change, however. We remain on guard.
Parks & Trails Council testified against these bills at each committee hearing, as did the DNR. Additionally, many of you reached out to legislators to voice your opposition and concern. To all of you who reached out, thank you! We will remain vigilant on this issue and let you know how and when you can help.
To learn more about this threat to state parks, visit our website.
The Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund bill (HF 3352 & SF 2934), which appropriates proceeds from the State Lottery based on recommendations by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), has been moving through the legislative process and would fund many important park and trail projects across Minnesota. Key projects in the bill include:
Bonding has mostly taken a back seat thus far, though negotiations are sure to pick up in the coming weeks. Governor Dayton released a $1.5 bonding proposal in January that focuses on transportation, water quality, affordable housing and the higher education system. Legislative leaders have yet to release their bonding priorities. All of the projects listed on our legislative agenda have been introduced as individual bills, and we’ll be working with legislators to get all those projects included in the final bonding package.
With just more than a month until adjournment, legislators still have a lot of work to get done. This week committees will resume their work in earnest in anticipation of the final committee deadline on April 20, upon which committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills. The House and Senate Capital Investment Committees are also likely to start meeting on a regular basis as they continue the hard work of putting together bonding bills. But as the mantra at the capitol goes, expect the unexpected, so stay tuned