The 2018 Legislature has wrapped up its work for the year after a busy session. Minnesota Farmers Union was very busy testifying over 30 times on various bills before many different committees in both the Senate and the House. In addition, MFU had a very successful lobby day in February. MFU also holds bi-weekly calls with MFU County Leadership during session and sends out Legislative email updates to communicate with members. Here is a look at how some of the issues MFU worked on turned out.
Governor Dayton vetoed the omnibus tax bill that contained language that would have conformed Minnesota to the increased federal section 179 federal expensing amounts for income and franchise tax purposes – up to $1,000,000 from Minnesota’s current level of $25,000. MFU supported this legislation that grew in importance due to the federal government recent passing of a major overhaul of the tax system.
Ditch mowing bill signed
MFU applauded the signature of HF 3569 this session by Governor Mark Dayton that implements a moratorium on the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) in enforcing permits until April 30th, 2019 for mowing and baling in right of way on trunk highways, except for land that adjoins state land.
MFU was pleased this session by the signing by Governor Mark Dayton of legislation to fund the Rural Finance Authority (RFA) which helps farmers secure funding for various important loans including restructure, beginning farmers, and farm improvement loans. The RFA would have run out of dollars about June 1 of this year had the legislature not acted. The RFA partners in lending with local banks on the programs they have.
This year, Minnesota became the first state to blend 20 percent biodiesel in the summer months. The legislature passed, and the Governor signed that paved the way for Minnesota to implement the mandate this year. The biodiesel mandate law generally requires that each gallon of Number 2 diesel fuel sold in the state be 10 percent biodiesel (B10). The bill provides that from April 1 to April 14 each year, the minimum biodiesel content requirement is temporarily reduced to no less than ten percent, after that it would be 20%. Under current law, the B10/B20 requirement begins April 1 each year. The bill also extends the biodiesel mandate exemption for Number 1 diesel indefinitely.
In the end no action was taken on buffers this year, two bills that MFU supported were a buffer tax credit that would have provided eligible landowners $50 per acre, each year, for farmland converted to water quality buffers. The proposed tax credit would allow Minnesota landowners who have installed water quality buffers on tillable land to receive the tax credit, even if they installed the buffers before the new water quality law went into effect, landowners who had been compensated through a redetermination or a government program such as CRP or CREP would not be eligible for the credit. The other piece MFU supported that stalled was a one-year waiver for the buffers required this fall on public drainage systems like the one that was passed last year for buffers on public waters.
Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule
After consulting members and seeing an updated proposed rule that alleviated many of MFU’s concerns by removing many areas from a previous proposal, MFU opposed attempts to require legislative approval of MDA’s Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule (also known as the Groundwater Protection Act). MFU also heard from members in affected areas that they generally do not fall apply nitrogen, and the rule banning fall application would not go into effect until 2020. The House and Senate Ag Committees with jurisdiction over the proposed rule, used a legislative rule to effectively delay the approval of the rule until after the 2019 legislative session.
Although no action was taken on it this year, MFU was pleased to see introduction of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for certain meats this session by Sens. Tony Lourey, Kent Eken and Jason Isaacson and Reps. David Bly and Clark Johnson. COOL continues to be a popular issue with MFU members, and we will continue to work on this.
MFU supported legislation that stalled for $500,000 which was included in the House Legacy bill H.F. 4167 authored by Rep. Bob Gunther. The bill says money in fiscal year 2018 is appropriated from the Clean Water Fund to the commissioner of agriculture for grants to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota to fund the Forever Green Agriculture Initiative and to protect the state’s natural resources while increasing the efficiency, profitability, and productivity of Minnesota farmers by incorporating perennial and winter-annual crops into existing agricultural practices. However, the bonding bill included $250,000 the from the trust fund to the commissioner of agriculture to establish demonstration plots of Kernza, a new intermediate perennial grain crop, to evaluate the potential to profitably reduce nitrate contamination of groundwater in vulnerable wellhead protection regions of Minnesota.
Ag License Plate
MFU was disappointed that H.F. 3152 authored by Rep. Rod Hamilton and Sen. Gary Dahms that creates a Minnesota agriculture special license plate died this session. The legislation would say as part of obtaining the plate, a vehicle owner would need to donate $20 annually for Minnesota FFA Foundation and Minnesota 4-H activities. Unfortunately, the bill was held up due to the MNLARS issue. MFU will keep advocating for the bill and urging for it to move forward next session.
Legislation passed and was signed into law that broadens the harvest season to be year-round for an hours of service exemption in intrastate transportation of agricultural commodities and farm supplies within a 150-air mile radius. The bill also clarifies that the exemption covers all hours of service regulations, including electronic logging device rules. There are multiple statutory exemptions from federal motor carrier regulation for agricultural transportation; this provision applies to all agricultural transportation including for-hire carriers.
Farm Advocate funding increased
The Legislature also worked on increasing funding for the MN Farm Advocate program by $30,000 per year. MFU thanks Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) and Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) for championing this cause. Farm Advocates provide one-on-one assistance for Minnesota farmers who face crisis caused by either a natural disaster or financial problems. Farm Advocates understand the needs of our agricultural families and communities. They are trained and experienced in agricultural lending practices, mediation, lender negotiation, farm programs, crisis counseling, disaster programs and to recognize the need for legal and/or social services. In the end, this important legislation was also vetoed as part of a larger bill.
Farmer Mental Health
MFU was pleased to see several bills introduced that would have appropriated dollars from the general fund to the commissioner of agriculture for transfer to the Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for additional statewide mental health counseling support to farm families and business operators. Despite having widespread support, the funding for additional dollars was included in final spending bill that was vetoed by Governor Dayton.
Farmers Legal Action Group
The Legislature considered legislation authored by Rep. Jeanne Poppe and Sen. Nick Frentz, that says $100,000 in fiscal year 2019 would have been appropriated from the general fund to MDA for a grant to the Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) to provide legal services to the Minnesota Farm Advocates program, legal aid organizations serving farmers, the Farm Business Management program, farmers participating in farmer-lender mediations and farmers who contact Farmers’ Legal Action Group directly, and to otherwise work to keep Minnesota farmers on the land. MFU supports this legislation that was a recommendation from our recent full board meeting to help assist farmers who are struggling. In the end, no dollars were allocated.
Farm permits bill
Another interesting bill that ultimately stalled out was S.F. 1092/H.F. 1126 authored by Sen. Torrey Westrom and Rep. Deb Kiel (R-Crookston) that would allow an individual with a restricted farm permit to travel 40 miles up from the current 20 miles and allow a restricted license to be obtained no matter how that farm is organized. This is aimed at 15-year old’s being able to drive a little farther to obtain parts, feed, etc. MFU will continue to work next session.
Legislation was considered this year and ultimately failed that would have submitted a constitutional amendment proposal to the voters. The amendment would have dedicated state general sales tax revenue that is attributable to sale of motor vehicle repair and replacement parts, to go entirely to state and local road systems. Revenue would have been phased in over fiscal years 2021 to 2025. MFU Full Board of Directors voted not to take a position in support at the spring meeting.
This year, MFU joined the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition and MFU was pleased to see the legislature include $15 million dollars for the state’s Border to Border matching grant fund broadband program in their final spending bill. Although this funding was well below the $51.48 million the recommended, and half of what Governor Dayton requested. The spending was in the 990-page spending bill vetoed by Governor Dayton.
MFU continues to support legislation authored by Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) and Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) that would allow Minnesotans to have a public health care option by buying into Minnesota Care, that legislation did not receive a hearing this year, the House did have spirited debate about the proposed Minnesota Care Buy-In program after language was included in the House omnibus portion that included the Department of Human Services budget that would forbid them from using dollars to promote or work on a MN Care Buy-in program. Rep. Clark Johnson offered an amendment to H.F. 3138 to remove that language that failed 51-76. Republicans raised concerns about rural hospitals and reimbursement rates. Ultimately the bill that included this language was vetoed by Governor Dayton. MFU continues to support a Minnesota Care Buy-In option and will continue to work on this issue.