The governor’s plan was heard in the Environment Committee with no vote taken. It was held over and not sent on to any other committees. So, even though it greatly affected farmers, it didn’t receive a hearing in either my ag policy committee or the finance committee. Most rural legislators were against the plan, with reasons almost too numerous to mention. One size doesn’t fit all situations, questions about compensation for land owners, and the mandating of a particular use on private property were among the main concerns raised.
It looked as if the buffer bill was dead, but the suspicion remained that if this was something the governor really wanted, he would get it in some form or other. And that’s basically what has happened, with a much scaled-back version in the final environment bill passed out of both the House and Senate. The 50-foot mandate is gone, except on public waters, which is already current law. Also gone is any mention of DNR enforcement, one of the key provisions demanded by those of us who represent rural interests.
The main provision of the new language is the requirement of 16.5 foot (one rod) buffers on all public ditches. Current law says these ditches, also called county ditches or judicial ditches, must be buffered after they have undergone a legal process known as “re-determination.” With this new language, these ditches will now need buffers by late 2018 with or without having gone through a re-determination.
A big focus has been on local control of this process. Additional state funding will go to county Soil and Water Conservation Districts to assist farmers in planning and implementing buffers. The counties will also have enforcement powers with the ability to levy fines up to $500 for non-compliance. It will also be up to local SWCDs to determine if private ditches should be buffered. They will also have the ability to allow farmers to implement “alternative practices” that would accomplish much the same thing as buffers.
I write this as if these new provisions have already become law. They haven’t. This language was part of the larger environment/ag bill that Gov. Dayton vetoed. However, he has said he approves of the buffer language and it will, in all likelihood, be part of the bill sent to him during the upcoming special session. Speaking of that, we haven’t received word yet on when it will be. We have been told it will be held in the State Office Building, in two of the larger committee rooms.
In all, the governor vetoed three spending bills. In addition to the environment/ag bill, he also rejected the K-12 education bill and the one pertaining to jobs and energy. It’s thought agreement must be reached on all three bills before we are called back.