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The legislative session has been moving at a fast and furious pace, creating a whirlwind of activity since the Legislature started its new session in January. We’ve got a lot of updates to share, of which the vast majority are very positive and exciting. If you want to learn even more, please join us on February 24 at 2:00 P.M. for our next legislative forum. You can also review our previous forums on the GMPT website here.
Heading into the legislative session, the GMPT had identified four main goals on its legislative agenda:
- Protecting Greater Minnesota’s share of Legacy funding;
- Supporting a general fund appropriation to pay for the operating costs of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission (GMRPTC, or the “Commission”);
- Supporting passage of an LCCMR bill with funding for the DNR local parks and trails programs as well as selected local and regional parks and trails; and
- Supporting a bonding bill that included funding for local and regional parks and trails grants programs.
As explained below, we’ve made progress on each goal AND we’re close to achieving success on an unexpected objective. We also have an action step for all of you!
Every other year, the Legislature passes the Legacy budget bill, which allocates 14% of the Legacy fund to parks and trails. One of the reasons our organization exists is to ensure that Greater Minnesota gets its fair share of those funds. Since the first week of session, GMPT lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel has been working with GMRPTC Executive Director Renee Mattson to meet with each member of the Senate and House Legacy committees.
Most committee members are new to the Legacy process, and many are new to the Legislature. We’ve been focused on helping these legislators understand the importance of Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails and how Legacy funds have helped build this vibrant system. Our meetings have gone well, and the governor’s budget bill recommends that the Legacy fund again be divided so that 20% of those funds support the regional parks and trails of Greater Minnesota.
Although the Legislature has been very active, we will not see budget bills unveiled until March at the earliest after the official budget forecasts have been released.
Another top goal for GMPT is to obtain a permanent source of funding for the Commission outside of the Legacy funds. Our organization is very supportive of the Commission and all the work they do, but that work is currently funded out of Greater Minnesota’s 20% Legacy share.
Given the inequity in funding between Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails and those in the Metropolitan area, we are urging the Legislature to appropriate $1 million per biennium ($500,000 per year) to pay for the Commission’s operating costs. Senator Grant Hauschild (DFL-Hermantown) and Representative David Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) have introduced legislation (SF527/HF873) to support this proposal.
In the Senate, we have a bipartisan list of five authors, including one metropolitan legislator: Sen. Grant Hauschild (DFL-Hermantown), Sen. Heather Gustafson (DFL-Vadnais Heights), Sen. Jennifer McEwen (DFL-Duluth), Sen. Nick Frentz (DFL-North Mankato), and Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia). Under Senate rules, each bill can have no more than five authors.
In the House, Representatives Jeff Brand (DFL-Saint Peter), Luke Frederick (DFL-Mankato), Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth), and Kristi Pursell (DFL-Northfield) signed onto the bill. Up to 35 representatives can serve as co-author of this bill. If your legislator is not on the list of co-authors, please contact them TODAY and ask them to co-author H.F. 873. Please check out our handout here if you need more information on the bill. If you don’t know who represents you, visit this page for legislator information.
GMPT recognizes that many of its members will never qualify for Legacy funding, which is why we seek and support funding for the DNR’s local parks and trails grant programs from a variety of sources. We’ve been actively advocating for this year’s bill to include funding for these grant programs recommended by the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and were glad that $3.8 million was included for Local Parks, Trails, and Natural Area Grant Programs.
In addition, multiple member projects were included in the proposal as well.
Over the last several years, the LCCMR bill has been held up from passage in the Legislature by partisan conflict. We are delighted to see this bill moving forward expeditiously this year.
However, we are concerned about an effort to require a 50% match for future park and trail construction projects funded by LCCMR funds. You can read about our concerns in the letter we submitted. The House included this requirement in its version of the bill, while the Senate removed it. The issue will be settled by a conference committee, and we will keep you updated as this bill moves forward.
Our final legislative goal was the inclusion of funding for the DNR local parks and trails grants programs in a bonding bill. We were very pleased that the House and Senate included $2 million for these programs in their recommended bonding bill. We submitted letters of support for this proposal. These bills are being discussed this week and voted on next week.
Sometimes you need to seize the opportunities in front of you! GMPT did precisely that in January. Legislation (HF389/SF356) was introduced earlier this year that would have increased the total amount of money going to recipients of Lottery-in-Lieu funds. The problem is that Greater Minnesota is not a recipient of those funds, so we raised our concern with the Senate and House about this disparity.
Although the results have not been finalized, the Senate author, Sen. Grant Hauschild (DFL-Hermantown), has been working with us to secure funding for Greater Minnesota. If Sen. Hauschild represents you, please thank him for all the extraordinary work he has been doing this session for Greater Minnesota parks and trails!
APPLY FOR GRANTS TODAY!!
Thank you to our GMPT members for all your help! Because of you, we’ve been successful in advocating for all of the funds mentioned above. Now we need our members to go and take advantage of those programs! If you have needs, please take a look at the LCCMR grant process and the DNR grant programs. Keep in mind that with both programs, you can reach out to staff for advice and a pre-application review to ensure that your application is in good shape. Click here for that information. For more grant and funding resources, visit the GMPT website.
Go out and get those grants! Now!
REMINDERS & CALL TO ACTION!
If you’ve made it to the end of the update, thank you for reading this far! We’re asking you to do two things:
- Ask your state representative to sign on to our legislation, H.F. 873, in the House. If they are already on the bill, thank them for signing on. And ask your Senator to be supportive of S.F. 527 even if they cannot sign on.
- Join us for our next legislative forum (click here for details).
And if you want to follow the bills we’re tracking this year, you can access our bill tracker here.
As always, if you have questions about GMPT’s legislative program, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at email@example.com.