Lots of unknowns for upcoming legislative session, Dahms says

Photo by Deb Gau State Sen. Gary Dahms spoke with Yellow Medicine County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.

GRANITE FALLS — He was there to talk about the current state of the Minnesota Legislature. But Sen. Gary Dahms said it was hard to make any predictions about the upcoming session.

“This year, it’s totally unknown,” Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said, during a Tuesday question-and-answer period with the Yellow Medicine County Board.

There were a couple of unusual situations that will affect the Legislature this year, Dahms said. One was Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of the Legislature’s operating budget. Republican lawmakers sued Dayton, and the issue of whether the veto was unconstitutional went to the Minnesota Supreme Court last year. But the court upheld the veto.

Dahms said legislators took steps to carry forward some funds to help keep the Legislature running. However, lawmakers will still need to re-pass their 2018-19 operating budget, and see if the governor will sign it, Dahms said.

Other uncertainties came in the wake of U.S. Sen. Al Franken resigning from office, and Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith being appointed to replace him.

With Smith’s position vacant, Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, the president of the state Senate, is now the new lieutenant governor. Fischbach has said she will continue to be a state legislator at the same time she’s serving as lieutenant governor. But now, Fischbach is facing a lawsuit saying it’s against the state constitution for a legislator to hold another office.

The outcome of that lawsuit could affect whether Republicans hang on to their Senate majority, Dahms said. if Fischbach is removed from her seat, the Senate could end up with a 33-33 split of Republicans and Democrats.

“There likely won’t be much getting done with 33 and 33,” Dahms said.

Yellow Medicine County commissioners asked Dahms a few questions related to current legislative issues. Commissioners said one concern in the area was changes to ditch mowing standards. The Minnesota Department of Transportation said it would start enforcing permit requirements to mow or bale hay in the right of way of a trunk highway, as well as restrictions on when ditches can be mowed.

Public listening sessions on the mowing restrictions got heated, commissioners said.

“I can tell you what happened. They got pressure from environmentalists,” Dahms said of the decision to start enforcing the permit requirements and mowing restrictions. But the move didn’t make much sense, either for farming or weed control, he said.

“It was a solution looking for a problem, and they found it,” Dahms said.

Dahms authored a bill that put a temporary hold on enforcing the permits and restrictions. However, he said he would have liked to see a different makeup to the stakeholder group formed as part of MnDOT’s review of the restrictions.

Dahms said one interesting thing about the response to the mowing restrictions was that they were getting the attention of an even wider group of people than the state buffer law did. It might be because ditch mowing affects smaller hobby farms as well as bigger farms, he said.

Commissioner Gary Johnson asked Dahms about the chances that a request for state bonding money to demolish Clarkfield’s vacant school building would be granted.

Dahms cautioned that the bonding money might not be granted on the first try.

“It’s not uncommon that it takes some time to get a request approved,” he said. The Legislature also doesn’t get many requests to tear down a building, instead of constructing one.

“This is kind of new,” Dahms said. “Three years ago, this would never have got a hearing.”

But there were some factors that could help the request, he said. For one, the community is planning to refurbish part of the building. The bonding request is also relatively low, at about $709,000.