ST. PAUL-Minnesota legislative agriculture committees used a little-known law to put the brakes on a Dayton administration fertilizer regulation rule and gain leverage over the governor.
The message sent by two Republican-run committees was that if Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoes an agricultural policy bill, his proposal to limit nitrogen fertilizer will be delayed until a year from now. If Dayton signs the bill, the agriculture chairman will allow the fertilizer rule to be implemented.
The weekend committee actions have two significant implications.
First, it is the first time the law has been used, and if it is successful it could prompt other committees with executive branch disagreements to take action without the need to go through the full Legislature. Second, it is one in a series of efforts in which legislators or the governor have tried to leverage the other side via unrelated actions.
The Senate ag committee voted 8-2 late Saturday, May 19, with the House following 9-6 on Sunday in favor of the resolution. The agriculture chairmen need to notify specific people before the action takes effect, and if Daton signs the ag bill they can decide not to implement the yearlong delay.
House Ag Chairman Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said the ag bill contains a provision that would give counties power to determine how much soil loss is allowed on a farm.
The state Board of Water and Soil Resources is poised to establish statewide rules, and rural Republicans insist such decisions must be left to local officials.
The committee votes, the only actions needed to fulfill the law, would delay the expected fertilizer rule until a year from now. The administration is expected to approve the rule late this year or early in 2019, but the committee action means legislators may change the rule next year.
The law could be used by other committees in any subject area, prompting Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, to say the vote will prompt legal action so the Supreme Court can decide "how much we can neuter the executive branch."
The normally civil House agriculture committee erupted in a dispute late Saturday. Democrats were critical of stopping the administration's fertilizer rule.
"This is a cringe-worthy moment in time," Rep. Jeanne Poppe, D-Austin, said. "I am so stunned that we have devolved to this. .. I have to wonder, frankly, if this is boys being boys."
Rural Republicans say they do not trust the Democratic Dayton administration after what the GOP says have been several years of a "war on agriculture."
"We have had a hard time getting anyone from the governor's office to meet with us," Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said about ag issues.
Dayton said work on the fertilizer rule has gone on for years, with 17 public hearings last year and more coming this year.
"In contrast, you have held no hearings and proposed no solutions on how we can provide safe drinking water..." Dayton wrote to Anderson and Weber.
Keeping potentially dangerous nitrates out of water is part of Dayton's effort to clean the state's lakes and streams. The nitrate provision would apply only to parts of the state where the fertilizer is most likely to get into groundwater.
The most notable issue farmer-administration dispute was Dayton's proposal, now law, to require plant buffers between cropland and water.
A recent administration-farmer conflict was a transportation department decision to regulate ditch mowing. Farmers who use grass from ditches for hay were upset.
A yearlong moratorium on enforcing the mowing rules passed the Legislature and Dayton signed it into law Saturday.
The mowing moratorium was done by full legislative vote.