Despite Gov. Mark Dayton’s much-touted vision of a government-streamlining “un-session,” some of his fellow DFLers are actively pursuing the opposite agenda in one notable instance: the push to revive that long-defunct state entity known as the Legislative Water Commission.
As proposed by Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood, the 12-member commission – with six members from each chamber – would be charged with delving into the myriad issues surrounding water management and reporting back to the Legislature with recommendations.
The establishment of such a commission is one of the principal legislative goals of water-focused environmental groups, according to Trevor Russell, the watershed program director for the Friends of the Mississippi River.
“It doesn’t dovetail with the un-session theme, but I’m hopeful the commission will pass this session,” said Russell. “Fischer said he has more support than he did last year.”
Water policy involves a dizzying array of technical matters, numerous state agencies, and a constant influx of new science and standards, Russell said, “so it’s essential we have legislators who are competent in these issues.”
Judging strictly by the number of water-related bills at the Legislature, Russell must be right – or, at the very least, there must be something in the water at the Capitol.
Fischer is listed as chief author of 11 water-related measures. Among the most notable proposals: to provide bonding money for the design and construction of a system to pump water into White Bear Lake, which is emptying like a bathtub without a drain stop because of excessive reliance on the underlying aquifer for municipal water supplies.
White Bear may be the poster child for bungled water management. But a host of other water-related dilemmas have also caught the attention of legislators. Another Fischer bill would create the position of state hydrologist to advise the governor on all things H20.
FMR’s Russell said his group is limiting its legislative ambitions to a tidy trinity: the creation of the aforementioned Legislative Water Commission, the procurement of long-term funding for agricultural research to help limit farm pollution, and a ban on triclosan, an antibacterial agent that is used in soaps, toothpastes and other products.
Triclosan is a source of concern because researchers have found that it forms dioxin compounds when combined with chlorine and sunlight. Last year, efforts to make Minnesota the first state in the country to ban triclosan stalled after the bill cleared one committee. According to Russell, the measure faces opposition from two lobbies: the American Cleaning Institute and Colgate, the toothpaste manufacturer.
Russell said the House Health and Human Services Committee is likely to revisit the issue again next week.
Despite the short length of the session – and the un-session ambitions of the governor – Russell said he is optimistic about the prospects for the triclosan ban, as well as FMR’s two other legislative priorities. In the main, he said, that’s because clean water is a popular with the voting public.
“Everybody wants clean water,” he said. “Apple pie doesn’t poll at 90 percent, but water quality does.”