Capitol Update for February 15, 2008

Posted by .

This week’s update from lobbyist John Tuma:

“Glorious News!! Minnesota a State!!! 100 guns fired at Winona: General Rejoicing.”

Headlines in the Winona Times May 15, 1858*

This year Minnesotans will celebrate our great state’s 150th anniversary of being admitted to the United States. Therefore, I hope to be able to give a little bit of a Minnesota history twist to each of the MEP Capitol Updates. The old Winona Times headline above of “Glorious News” is a fitting title for the first update of the 2008 Legislative Session. Week One does bring the environment and conservation community some “glorious news” with the passage of the Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment (GOHA).

Heading into the 2008 Legislative Session, members of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) made the quick passage of the Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment (GOHA) one of its top priorities. Interestingly enough, the congressional action making Minnesota a state in the late 1850s was delayed due to political wrangling between the southern and northern states over Kansas. It wasn’t until there was some shrewd political maneuvering by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas that the path was finally laid open for the admission of Minnesota as a state to the Union on May 11, 1858.

It definitely took some shrewd politicking and dogged determination from the chief authors Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller (DFL – Minneapolis) and House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL – Chisholm) to finally pass GOHA.

If you remember the disappointing news at the end of last legislative session when this legislation which dedicates 3/8 of one cent of the state sales tax to conservation, water protection and cultural heritage was also tied up with unrelated political wrangling. With the clock running down on the 2007 Legislative Session, we were extremely elated when a long-awaited compromise was finally reached. With only a couple hours left in the legislative session, we waited with anticipation for the final compromise package to be voted on. Our hopes were dashed in the last few hours when the House floor session turned into a proverbial political food fight with the GOHA compromise being one of the casualties of the session ending. What was only hours earlier an exhilarating victory turned into a gut-wrenching, disappointing lack of action.

Fortunately for MEP and citizens of Minnesota, the two chief authors were also extremely disappointed and quickly promised that the first bill to pass in the 2008 Legislative Session would be this piece of historic legislation. Maybe for the first time in Minnesota’s 150 year history, the combined promises of the legislative leaders of both houses were kept to exact precision.

On Thursday after only an hour and a half of very civil debate, the House overwhelmingly adopted the conference committee report on GOHA by a vote of 85 – 46. Within less than 15 minutes, the Senate took up the provision. After a couple hours of spirited but civil debate, the Senate also overwhelmingly adopted the proposed constitutional amendment by a vote of 46 – 17. Both votes were very bipartisan and send a strong message of support. Because this matter is a constitutional amendment, the Governor does not get an opportunity to sign or veto the bill. It is immediately sent to the Secretary of State with instructions to place it on the ballot in November of this year.

The citizens of the state of Minnesota now have the opportunity to provide the largest infusion of smart investments in protecting our lakes, rivers and wild places in our state’s 150 year history. A natural legacy for future generations.

Though the big news for this week was the passage of the Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment, there was even more activity on the MEP’s collaborative agenda. As the environmental lobbying team members were literally colliding into each other at full speed through the halls of the Capitol, it was not uncommon for them to indicate how this felt more like the frantic last week of session as opposed to a traditional first week of session. Typically legislative session starts out slowly and only starts to begin to build momentum after a couple months of little action. Not so for the 2008 Legislative Session for the environment. We were promised a frantic pace and it has lived up to its promise.

Some other action of note this week at the Capitol on the environment:

MEP’s Legislative Forum on Wednesday was a smashing success again. We were in a new space within the Science Museum that proved to be excellent for networking with legislative leaders and their staff. Many thanks to the MEP team who put on an excellent event. We received many compliments from a wide variety of people on how much they appreciate an opportunity get together and talk about the upcoming session on environmental issues.

Transit Choices 2020 also received its first hearings the first day of the session with a promise that it will be passed off the floor next week. Our Transit Choices priority calls for a set of smart investments in transit choices over the next 12 years. Unfortunately, the Twin Cities have fallen behind in providing real transit options for its citizens and, as a result, we are stuck in traffic creating needless global warming pollution. I had the privilege to testify on behalf of our team at the legislative hearings that if we act now we could reduce 395,000 tons of global warming pollution by 2020. We have been working within a broad coalition of transportation advocates looking for a solution to the stalemate that exist between the Legislature and Governor over the transportation bill. We’re hoping the voice of the environmental community and the need to start making progress towards our global warming reduction goal of 80% by 2050 will help motivate leaders to stop the political grandstanding and get Minnesota moving again. Both the House and Senate transportation bills passed through their first series of committees swiftly. We expect a vote off the floor of each body next week. Then the true test for the bills will occur with an anticipated veto and attempted vote to override that veto in which the House DFL leadership will have to convince at least five Republican House members to go against the Governor.

The Clean Car Standards, authored by Melissa Hortman (DFL- Brooklyn Park), also had its first hearing late afternoon into the evening on Valentine’s Day. Despite the desires of most of us to spend time with our sweethearts, the House Environment Policy Committee had an extended debate on whether Minnesota should adopt the California clean car standards which allows Minnesota to join 12 other states making a serious dent in global warming pollution. As a student of the legislative process, it was a pleasure to watch Chairman Kent Eken (DFL – Twin Valley) patiently move his committee to a positive solution for clean energy. The bill passed on a 10 – 7 vote. The bill’s next stop will be the committee on Government Operations which is responsible for overseeing the development of regulatory rules. The bill will have at least a couple more committee stops before it will have its anticipated floor action the week of March 10.

In the week following the 1858 admission of Minnesota to the United States, the news moved slowly up the Mississippi River on the steamboat Grey Eagle. There was much rejoicing in each of the little towns along the Grey Eagle’s route up the Mississippi to St. Paul. Despite the settlers’ feelings of great accomplishment, they all knew there was still much more to be done.

The environmental community can take pride in the great successes this week, but there is still a lot more to be done. A Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment is meaningless without a successful campaign for its passage on the ballot. The promise of further global warming pollution reductions faces great challenges this legislative session from well-financed opposition despite early success this week. How well our many bonding bill proposals will do this legislative session is yet unknown. We do know that the Governor’s proposal is well below historical levels of investment in environmental bonding. Finally, obtaining victory for smart investments in transit options is dependent upon a very politically charged transportation bill in an election year.

We definitely should do some “general rejoicing” for a good week, but we will need your continued vigilance if we are to call the 2008 Legislative Session “historic” for protecting our lakes, rivers and wild places.

*from Making Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858, Anne R. Kaplan, Marilyn Ziebarth, Editors, Minnesota Historical Press, 1999 Minnesota Historical Society.

Comments are closed.