The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) proposed rule revisions, which were presented across the state through a series of public hearings and through a public comment period. The MPCA received more than 1,000 comments from citizens of the state.
Strong criticism of the rules came from small producers who felt that complying with the rules would be unrealistic or excessively costly, according to Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel). Dille co-authored the Senate bill that modified the feedlot rules.
"We have to strike a balance between protecting the environment and maintaining a strong agricultural economy in this state based on valid science, sound economics, and common sense," said Dille.
"The big message," added Rep. Bob Ness (R-Dassel), "is beaurocrats listen to producers."
Changes to the MPCA requirements include: simplifying manure management plans, requiring cost-sharing funds to help smaller producers mitigate environmental concerns, and lengthening the time period allowed for full and partial compliance with the rules.
Farms with less than 300 animal units (AU) will have to follow the rules for manure application, but won't be required to keep detailed manure management records, said Dille. The state will offer a manure application training program for producers on farms with more than 300 animal units. The certified private manure applicator license should be similar to the pesticide applicator's license. "You're not going to see 'paperwork relief' in this bill summary," said Dille, "but that's what it boils down to."
To protect small producers from excessively costly mitigation solutions, the new rules require cost-share funds to cover 75 percent of a project. For instance, a feedlot with less than 300 AU will not have to spend more than $3,000 without cost-sharing funds.
For 300 to 500 AU, the producer will only be required to spend $10,000 without cost-sharing funds. "It has to be the state's responsibility to help small farmers," said Rep. Doug Stang (DFL-Cold Spring).
The MPCA's deadline for full and partial compliance with the new rules was extended. Partial compliance will now be on Oct. 1, 2005, not 2003. Full compliance now will be required on Oct. 1, 2010, not 2009.
The revisions also require the MPCA, or a county agent, to rule on a permit application within 60 days. "When a farmer has plans to do things and gets his capitol together, he can't afford to be stretched out," said Ness.
In agriculture, the Legislature also approved:
$11.5 million in education tax relief. The state will pay up to 70 percent of the general education levy on homestead agricultural land. Added to the $52.6 million in permanent tax cuts for agriculture passed last year, this means $64.1 million in tax relief for farmers this year.
$1.25 million for a state meat inspection program. The federal government matches this program at 50 percent.
$3.5 million in funding for high school agricultural education programs.
Area legislators called it a successful season for agriculture, but Paynesville's Steve McCorquodale, who is running on the DFL ticket for Stang's House seat, said farmers need more. "They want a fair price for their commodities," said McCorquodale. "A grain farmer today should receive on the cash market $3.77 a bushel for corn from the 1980 price plus inflation The current receiving price is $1.87 a bushel. No wonder there is an agricultural crisis and putting band aids on severed limbs is not the answer."
The Legislature spent nearly $600 million on transportation this year. "The final transportation bill has $600 million, of which $400 million came from the surplus," said Dille.
At least $177 million of that amount will be directed to outstate projects.
The new funding includes $16.5 million for widening Highway 23 from Richmond to Interstate 94, Stang said. "Our transportation bill this year should expedite that project," he added.
According to Stang, the construction is scheduled to begin in 2001. The first phase will widen the road to St. Cloud. The fourth phase of the project, starting in 2003, will bring four lanes to Richmond.
"The completion date for the Highway 23 project has been sped up anywhere from six months to a year thanks to the legislative funding this session," said Stang. "Now we can get the process started for expanding the highway from Richmond to Paynesville."
Nearly $30 million in state funding will go in aid to county and municipal road projects, according to Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).
Outstate projects will get $177 million, and a matching amount will go to the freeways in the metro area. The transportation compromise also included funding for light rail, which Dille, for one, opposed. "History will show who is right," he said of light rail, a pet project for Gov. Jesse Ventura. "It may be that light rail is worth the investment."
A change to the hospital district expansion requirements became law. Instigated by the Paynesville Area Health Care System and carried by Fischbach and Stang, the change allows established hospital districts relief from the contingency requirements.
In the original law, all cities or townships in a hospital district had to touch. PAHCS has gone to the Legislature twice (to admit the cities of Eden Valley and Richmond) for special legislature to waive this requirement.
By changing the law, PAHCS would be able to expand without needing special legislation.
Despite media attention and the testimony of Rheanne Zimmerman, a local fourth grader, before the House and Senate, no new funding was appropriated for gifted education programs. Stang, who signed on as an author to the bill, said the funding of a new program was unlikely in a nonbudget year. The awareness raised this year could help secure funds at next year's session.
Fischbach was disappointed about the Governor's veto of an abortion bill. The bill, according to Fischbach, its author, required abortion clinics to make information available and required the medical risks and alternatives to be given to a patient 24 hours before the procedure.
Fischbach said the bill was akin to consumer protection. State law, she noted, allows people to return new cars within three days. Shouldn't women undergoing an elective procedure have information, she asked.
The Women's Right to Know passed the House and Senate, which Fischbach thought was quite an accomplishment. But after working with a commissioner on the bill's wording, Gov. Ventura vetoed the bill. "That does not invoke a lot of trust," Fischbach said.
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