Like a monster in a B movie, this is the bill that just won’t die. Despite strong public opposition, Senate File 270, which weakens township local control of factory farms and other large scale developments, passed the Minnesota Senate Local Government Committee late in the evening of April 27. With all the last-minute, behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on at the Legislature this session, any bill that survives this late in the game has a chance of becoming law in the predawn hours of May 23. SF 270 is headed to the Senate floor and calls are needed now to make sure legislators drive a final stake through this beast. Check LSP’s latest action alert for details and how you can get the message across to lawmakers that this should be the last stop for any proposal that weakens local control.
SF 270—along with its House companion, HF 389—is part of a disturbing trend at the State Capitol of legislation being pushed by corporate interests that weakens or eliminates important rights (the weakening of environmental review is another prime example). And the legislation is being bullied through despite widespread opposition from the public.
On the plus side, because of calls from township officers, farmers and other citizens concerned about the future of rural communities, several Senators spoke up for local control and in opposition to SF 270 during last week’s committee hearing. In addition, at least three initial authors of anti-local control legislation withdrew their names after hearing from the public during the past several weeks (to listen to an LSP radio ad on local control, click here). LSP and other members of MEP sent a letter to legislators earlier this week laying out in detail how weakening local control puts the environment at too great a risk.
Because of the public’s opposition to weakening local control, lawmakers who serve corporate special interests are trying to limit citizen input as much as possible. For example, when the Senate Local Government Committee convened at 1:30 p.m. on April 27 to consider SF 270, among other things, it was clear that input on the downside to undermining local democracy was not exactly welcome.
Ultimately, the bill was moved to last on the agenda and taken up sometime around 9 p.m. that day. Alan Perish, a township officer and LSP State Policy Committee member, drove two hours from Todd County to testify on the legislation. The committee administrator knew in advance that Perish would be driving this distance to testify, but no attempt was made to accommodate his travel time and it was never acknowledged.
Perish presented a clear case as to why this legislation flies in the face of what is good for Minnesota and why local control needs to stay strong. The Minnesota Association of Townships, the Association of Minnesota Counties and the League of Minnesota Cities also testified in opposition to SF 270.
Development interests, represented by the Builders Association of Minnesota, testified in favor of the bill. While not testifying, corporate agriculture interests monitored the hearing closely and stayed until the very end at around 10:30 p.m.
The attitude of proponents of the bill — both legislators and those testifying—was that the interests of developers trumps local control and that if a township, county or city hasn’t anticipated a situation in their ordinances, that is their problem.
There was no real interest from supporters of SF 270 in considering how this legislation puts residents of a community at a complete disadvantage when developers want to push unanticipated and unwanted projects into their neighborhood. In other words, the concerns of the people who have to live with the results of a development project that’s been rushed through the system don’t matter.
It’s time to make it clear, once again, that at the Capitol listening to—and acting on—those concerns isn’t an inconvenience to be avoided, it’s a necessary part of democracy.