MINNESOTA LEGISLATIVE NOTEBOOK: Hunting and fishing license increase passes

ST. PAUL -- A bill allowing for a wolf hunting season and raising hunting and fishing license fees was approved 68-62 in the House and 34-28 in the Senate Saturday night.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigsten addresses a small rally of anglers
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandira adresses a small rally of anglers Monday in the Minnesota Capitol. He broke away from a Republican meeting about raising hunting and fishing license fees to talk to the crowd.

ST. PAUL -- A bill allowing for a wolf hunting season and raising hunting and fishing license fees was approved 68-62 in the House and 34-28 in the Senate Saturday night.

The bill also included a number of other outdoors- and environment-related provisions.

Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said she was concerned about the wolf hunting season established in the bill. She said the animal was just taken off the endangered species list and more consideration should be given to the issue.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said the plan is reasonable, limiting the take at 400 wolves. About 4,000 wolves are in Minnesota.

The fee increases were added when the House and Senate combined separate versions of their bills, although some House members had issues with the addition.


"We never got to vote on this on the House floor," Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said.

Sixty outdoors groups asked for the fee increases because a Department of Natural Resources fund that collects the funds could soon be broke.

But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the DNR did not prove it needed the funds.

"The people of Minnesota in my district are not asking for these fee increases," he said.

The bill now heads to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Monday ending?

Republican legislative leaders said for months they want to end the 2012 session Monday, but it probably will not happen.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, has been the big proponent of leaving Monday, but late Saturday admitted lawmakers may stick around longer.


"We will stay here to do really important work," Zellers said.

However, if GOP leaders think no more progress is possible, they still could go home for the year Monday.

"If we feel we have gone as far as we can go, there may be adjournment," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said Saturday night.

The main hang-up is whether Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders can agree on a tax-relief bill, mostly aimed at helping businesses. That is a priority for Republicans and they do not want to leave St. Paul without it.

"The tax bill is everything," Senjem said about a Republican proposal to give $52 million in tax relief next year.

Without a tax agreement, Senjem said, it is less likely lawmakers will pass the other two major remaining bills, a Vikings stadium construction plan and a public works financing proposal.

Zellers said Republicans want to negotiate all three major remaining bills, but he accused Dayton of breaking off talks. Dayton's office says GOP leaders have not asked for further face-to-face meetings, but Zellers said they have.

The speaker called the lack of negotiation sessions "a little disappointing."


"Slow progress" is how House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, referred to end-of-session negotiations. And that was one of the more positive comments.

Republicans blamed Dayton for lack of agreements to end the session.

"The governor has not been involved in training this up," Senjem said.

The public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, remains in dispute between Republicans, who lean toward a smaller bill, and Democrats, who want to spend more.

Senjem said it appeared there had been progress on a bonding plan, but "then it exploded into a much larger bill."

Senjem, who leads the Senate public works committee, admitted getting bonding votes will be tough. "We're on the edge."

Senate alters tenure

The Minnesota Senate approved a plan 35-28 that would eliminate seniority as the only standard for teacher layoffs.


"Ending seniority-based layoff will help our schools keep their best teachers in the classroom," Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, said. "This legislation will say 'you matter more than just when you signed your contracts.'"

The bill proposes, instead, to rely on teacher evaluations.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, wondered why a bill needed to be passed now without those standards in place. He also worried the change would allow administrators to "balance the budget on the backs of senior teachers" whose salaries are higher.

"This bill has no guarantee of keeping the best teachers in the classroom," Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

The bill was approved 70-61 in the House and is headed to Dayton, who is expected to veto it.

Tough decision?

Dayton has made heavy decisions in his years in state and federal government, many that affected lots of people's lives.

On Saturday, he talked about one particular judgment: "Probably the toughest decision I have had to make."


The topic? A bill he needed to sign or veto by last midnight that would allow more powerful fireworks, including those that shoot into the air.

Governor signs BWCAW land swap bill

Legislation that would trade away state-owned land that's now locked inside the federal Boundary Waters was signed into law Friday by Dayton after clearing the House and Senate earlier last week.

The bill opens the door for the state to trade more than 86,000 acres of state school trust fund land in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for an equal value of federal land outside the 1.1 million acre wilderness.

The bill ignores months of work by a legislative advisory working group made up of state and federal land experts, nonprofits, county officials, timber industry leaders and more that backed a hybrid compromise that would sell roughly half the state land to the feds and exchange the other half.

"It does appear now that months of effort by the working group were completely a waste of time. They (legislators) even threw out the work that identified which parcels were acceptable for everyone to trade for," said Betsy Daub, policy director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness group. "If you look at the lands listed in the bill as the goal to trade for, it's right in the middle of where all the copper mining interest is. This bill totally favors mining."

Daub said her group urged the governor to veto the bill.

But the legislation is just a first step toward a land exchange. Any deal still must be approved by federal officials, with congressional action and a bill signed by the president.


Supporters say the effort will end a decades-long dispute over what to do with the state land within the BWCAW, which was unable to earn any revenue for the school trust fund because federal regulations don't allow logging or mining in the wilderness. They say newly acquired federal lands outside the BWCAW now can be transferred to the state, which will allow mining and logging.

Synthetic drugs expanded

More chemicals will be considered synthetic drugs under a bill Dayton signed into law Friday.

It also increases penalties for people who sell them.

"In a session where we haven't been able to accomplish a lot, I'm proud we were able to get this bill signed into law," said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth.

If found guilty of selling synthetic drugs, sentences could be given of up to five years and fines of up to $10,000.

Also, the state Board of Pharmacy will update the list of synthetic drugs to keep up with new ones that keep coming out.

"This law was proposed in response to the horrible effects these chemicals have on communities across the state," Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said. "As this legislation becomes law, we close the loopholes drug dealers have found that allow them to legally sell these mind-altering drugs in Minnesota's Main Street businesses."

John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper, contributed to this report.

Don Davis and Danielle Nordine report for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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