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Capitol Chatter: Nolan may use connection on farm bill

ST. PAUL -- Rick Nolan sounds thrilled to sit on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and he hopes a personal relationship with the House speaker could help the cause.

"It is my first love," the congressman said about agriculture as he rejoined the House after a 30-year absence.

The politician who represents the northeastern quarter of the state joins two other Minnesota Democrats on the committee: Collin Peterson of western Minnesota and Tim Walz from the south.

Unlike Peterson,who is the committee's top Democrat, Nolan said he will take part in work on a new farm bill even if Republican House Speaker John Boehner refuses Peterson's demand to promise the full House will hear a bill that comes out of the committee.

"I know John Boehner and I like John Boehner," Nolan said in an interview.

Nolan said his cousin is a key Boehner staffer and they have talked at various social activities, building a relationship with a man who makes many critical decisions. It was Boehner who would not bring a farm bill to a full House vote last year.

The ag committee oversees the forestry industry, where Nolan worked for years. He owned and operated a forest products company in Emily, bought logs from local loggers and sold pallets.

Nolan took quite a step up when he was elected Nov. 6. He now is resigning his latest government post: serving on his township planning board.

Arguing, not talking

Republican and Democratic state Senate leaders spent something south of 10 minutes on the session's opening day laying the groundwork for the year, emphasizing their hope to work together for Minnesotans.

Less than 48 hours later, they spent something north of two hours arguing about the budget majority Democrats gave minority Republicans. It was one of the most heated arguments, if not the most heated, that early in the session in recent years.

So Forum News Service asked Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, if he and Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, had discussed the budget matter before airing their dirty laundry in public. Hann said they had not talked since the Nov. 6 election, other than during quick handshakes when they appeared together.

Bakk's office said he had called Hann after Republicans named him their leader, but Hann never responded. Since then, apparently neither has asked for a meeting with the other.

Franken thinking

U.S. Sen. Al Franken said he is working to develop a stance on what to do with school trust lands around the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

"I'm really starting to immerse myself in it," he said after spending several days in closed-door meetings on the subject. "I'm trying to process it."

As the Minnesota Democrat said, the issue has been around for decades. It involves land the state owns in northeastern Minnesota that was set aside to raise money for schools across the state, but the federal government surrounded 86,000 aces of the land when it established the wilderness area.

With the school land surrounded, the state cannot use it for forestry, mining and other uses that could generate money for schools.

The state wants to swap the land for federal land to give the wilderness area more space and to give schools more of a chance to get land that can produce a profit. Washington would need to approve any such swap.

Dayton gone

Commissioners and staff members have met with Gov. Mark Dayton at the governor's residence the past couple of weeks as he prepares a budget, including what are expected to be major tax changes, for delivery Jan. 22.

Dayton has not been in the Capitol since Christmas. Instead, he is home recovering from back surgery.

Besides his budget announcement later this month, Dayton plans a 7 p.m. Feb. 6 State of the State speech to legislators.

GOP: Is it just DL now?

Rural House Republicans are upset that urban Twin Cities lawmakers lead House Democrats, and about the decision to include farm programs in a committee that also deals with environment and natural resources issues.

Many Republicans say it appears the other party has dropped "F" from DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party).

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, tweeted: "Think I will file a lawsuit to get the F removed from DFL."

Faster permits wanted

The state still takes too long to issue environmental permits to businesses wanting to build or expand, the Dayton administration says.

Administration and legislative actions the past few years have made progress, Gov. Mark Dayton's office says. Ninety-six percent of environmental permits are issued within 150 days, the current state goal.

But Dayton Chief of Staff Tina Smith said the governor wants some permits issued in 90 or fewer days.

"Gov. Dayton has directed both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue or deny permits within 90 days or 150 days, depending on the nature and complexity of the permit," Smith said. "This new measure of efficiency will be good for business, good for our environment, and just plain good government."

The quicker permits will be for projects such as storm water projects, which require less study.

Flooded cars?

Minnesota officials warn that cars damaged by Hurricane Sandy late last year could turn into Minnesotans' nightmares this year.

Those cars may be on used car lots.

"Vehicles that look clean might not have been inspected by a professional for mechanical and electrical performance," said Patricia McCormack, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division. "Hidden damage can cause an owner serious problems weeks or even months later."

Minnesota law requires a dealer to tell a potential buy in writing if new and late-model vehicles have been damaged.

Franken: Just working

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he is doing nothing more than what he was elected to do, and not trying to lay groundwork for his 2014 re-election.

"It will take care of itself if I put my head down and do the work," he told reporters at the Minnesota Capitol, where he met on health-care issues and talked to youths learning about government.

Franken is raising money for a second run for the Senate.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.