Bill clarifying Minnesota water buffers set for Dayton’s pen

ST. PAUL -- Nearly a year after he signed the first one, another bill regulating the use of vegetative buffer strips to protect Minnesota's waters is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

ST. PAUL - Nearly a year after he signed the first one, another bill regulating the use of vegetative buffer strips to protect Minnesota’s waters is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.

Dayton has said he supports the bill the House passed Thursday by a 105-24 vote and cleared the Senate last week with unanimous support.
The governor is expected to sign the legislation even though he has argued the bill’s exemption of private ditches from buffer rules weakens an effort that is a top priority of his final term - improving water quality. Dayton says vegetative buffers will protect state waters, many of which are polluted, with the water unfit for drinking or recreation.
The buffer bill update clarifies the reach of legislation passed last year that requires protective vegetative buffer strips around state waters and along public drainage ditches. Landowners who fail to install buffers can face fines and other penalties.
“We modeled this work on work that already has been done in counties across the state that have installed buffers effectively,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chief sponsor of the buffer bill update.
Last year’s legislation was hammered out behind the scenes and passed in the middle of the night, leading to confusion.
Some state officials, including Dayton at one point, argued the bill extended to drainage ditches on private lands. But Republicans who helped craft the compromise said private ditches were never part of the deal.
In January, Dayton relented, fearing that standing his ground could endanger his other water-quality initiatives. When the 2016 Legislature convened, lawmakers quickly began work to further clarify the law.
“We’ve done our best to clarify language so it is not misinterpreted by this administration or any future administrations,” Torkelson said.
Despite the buffer update’s widespread support, some House members used Thursday’s debate to criticize the way the initial bill was passed, without proper vetting with a vote after midnight.
“Here we are, a year of drama later, having to do clarifications to a bill that was put together, not in the public, but in the dark of night, somewhere,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul.
Others expressed their disdain for the governor’s initiative. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called the first buffer bill an unconstitutional taking of land without compensation.
“We need to repeal the law or we need to pay these people,” Drazkowski said.

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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