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Dayton, Brainerd legislators like buffer bill

The same day Gov. Mark Dayton announced he would veto an education funding bill and likely send the Minnesota Legislature into special session, Brainerd area legislators and Dayton alike praised a measure to separate Minnesota's lakes and rivers from runoff pollution.

In a press conference with greater Minnesota reporters Tuesday afternoon, Dayton said although he had yet to fully examine the bills that along with the education measure passed in the frenetic final hours of the session, he liked what he saw on shoreland buffers.

The language on buffers was a "very, very compelling reason" to sign the larger bill containing the buffer strip measure, he said.

However, there were other provisions in the bill that Dayton said he opposed, including the elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Citizens' Board.

"But, I don't expect to have bills that I agree with entirely," he said. "That's a guarantee when you have a divided government. ... I'm prepared to accept things I don't like in the spirit of compromise."

Dayton praised Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt's work on the compromise, saying it meant the Republican from Crown had kept his word.

Dayton added that the bill does not add to existing requirements for buffers, it simply compels eligible landowners to comply with law.

"That was one of the biggest breakthroughs in this," he said. "Now everybody who's responsible for protecting the quality of the water that's on their property or adjacent to their property... they're going to have to do what they should do anyway."

The deal also garnered some praise from the Brainerd area delegation of legislators, all Republicans.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said although he wasn't completely happy with the deal, he felt it made sense.

"I voted for the overall bill, but I wanted to make sure it it didn't harm the ag community," he said. "I think it's a reasonable compromise."

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said she hadn't seen all the final language on the bill, but she also was proud that it did not put an undue burden on agriculture.

"It's existing law, it's not any Herculean attempt to do other things," she said.

Good, bad and ugly in 2015 session

The Brainerd legislators named a number of disappointments from the regular session as well. They included only passing a "lights on" transportation bill that's a far cry from the sweeping legislation proposed earlier in the session, a billion dollars in surplus money sitting idle that could have gone to tax cuts, and no 5 percent increase to wages for certain health care providers.

There were positive reviews of the session, however.

Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, said it had been an "excellent" regular session, and rated it "a solid B or B minus."

"We fixed some regulatory issues, we got a good education bill out there that is going to move us forward, we did some really important things for nursing homes, our elder care in northern Minnesota," he said.

Lueck said regulatory reform was an important aspect of the session that ended up flying under the radar.

"The untold story is that there (were) some huge regulatory reforms put forward ... particularly in the MPCA arena," he said. "We continue to make strides on rational, science-based regulation instead of emotional reaction to things."

Gazelka said a special session could be a means to achieving more Republican goals.

"At the end of the day, it could be a good thing," he said. "There could be a good transportation package that everyone agrees on, there could be some tax return for people who paid taxes."

Gazelka also talked about a controversial social-issue measure that he said he would continue advocating for in 2016. The bill, which Gazelka introduced May 8, would allow people to deny marriage-related service to same-sex marriages on the grounds it's against a "sincerely held belief" that marriage is limited to a man and a woman.

He introduced the bill after legislative deadlines in order to start a conversation and help strike a balance between the gay community and the faith community on the issue, he said.

"It's a fine line, I'm trying to find it," he said.

Overall, Gazelka said 2015 was a relatively cooperative regular session, as far as the Senate was concerned.

"On the Senate side, I felt like it was one of the more bipartisan sessions," he said.

The last minutes of the Minnesota House regular 2015 session late Monday night quickly became infamous, with Democrat members raucously shouting at Daudt for the floor and Daudt coolly ignoring them.

Witnessing the chaos was Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, serving his first term as a member of the House. He said a backlog of bills at the last minute is a yearly practice, at least according to what he was told.

"I talked to a number of folks and they're like, 'This happens almost every year' and I go, 'What?'" he said. "It's not necessarily unexpected to have some flurry of activity at the end."

Heintzeman said Monday night's rancor could in part be blamed on the hot public spotlight cast on the House, and that it wasn't characteristic of what usually happens on the floor.

"Is it representative of how things play out on daily basis?" he asked. "No. (Are) there some things that happen simply because all of Minnesota is watching? Yes."

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