Points North: Will the Budget Be Better than the Fish and Game Bill?

Political Forecast in the North...Not Looking So Good   Photo by Antti Nannimus on Flickr
Political Forecast in the North...Not Looking So Good Photo by Antti Nannimus on Flickr

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Last week, Outdoor News columnist Rob Kimm pointed out that Governor Dayton's recent veto of the Omnibus Game and Fish Bill was an echo of then Governor Pawlenty's veto of the 2010 game and fish bill. As Kimm succinctly explained, "...both vetoed bills share a common and troublesome theme: far-reaching policy changes pushed forward by legislators too often willfully deaf to constituent concerns, and openly contemptuous of recommendations made not only by significant numbers of hunters and anglers, but the state's management professionals as well."

The game and fish omnibus bill is a legislative catch-all for everything related to wildlife, fisheries and related resource management. Always colorful and occasionally controversial, the omnibus bill may make the news for anything from arcane rules for turtle trapping or mainstream deer hunting regulations. Despite raucous debate, usually when the omnibus bill reaches the Governor's desk it represents the best effort to reach middle ground on contentious issues and respects the scientific tenets of fish and wildlife management.

In 2010 and 2011, that didn't happen. Instead, the legislators passed bills that included a motley collection self-serving rules such as special walleye size limits for a lake where a state senator owned a cabin, a definition of ATVs based on the opinion of one legislator who ignored the consensus reached by task force and language giving counties the authority to set bounties on coyotes—restoring a form of predator control that was determined useless 50 years ago. Unfortunately, the good items contained in these omnibus bills were vetoed along with the bad and the ugly.

Whatever is going on here appears to be a bipartisan affair. As was already noted, the 2010 and ’11 bills were vetoed by Governors of different parties and the leadership of the environmental committees where game and fish legislation originates changed from one party to the other as well. What remained somewhat the same was committee membership. From one year to the next, the bad bills included many of the same authors.

Maybe this means bad bills are being written by good ‘ol boys. Actually, let’s hope that’s what it means. If instead, the bills are reflection of the Legislature as a whole, we’re in trouble. As everyone knows, once again the Legislature was unable to get its work done on time and the budget bills it did pass were vetoed by the Governor. We are now waiting for the Governor to convene the Legislature in a special session. If lawmakers are unable to compromise on a budget, a state government shutdown begins July 1.

Obviously, a veritable mountain of legislation affecting all aspects of state government will be authored, debated, amended and passed in a hopefully short time span. But how do we know the budget legislation will be any better than the Game and Fish Omnibus Bill? Do state lawmakers have our best interests in mind or are they prone to a governing style that reflects a personal agenda and the wishes of favored special interests?

Some wise folks equate the legislative process to sausage making, saying you really don’t want to know everything about the ingredients or how it was made. That’s true enough, but not all sausage is the same. The best sausage is made by someone who uses quality ingredients and takes pride in the final product. I’d like to think important legislation is made the same way.

Game and fish lawmaking is important, too. And now, for two years in a row, it’s been dead in the water. In the real world, such poor performance typically isn’t tolerated by supervisors. Then again, in the real world you don’t get to hold a special session when you fail to get your work done on time. Apparently, our Legislature, which in essence supervises itself, doesn’t hold itself to any real world standard.

Perhaps this is why, year after year, no matter what party is in charge, the public foots the bill for legislative sessions that offer lots of political grandstanding and emotional debates over nonissues, and not so much regarding politics of substance. Predictably, there is a chaotic rush to pass legislation in the final hours of the session and then, too often, lawmakers say they must meet again in special session to finish their work. Rarely, in recent years, have we Minnesotans been able to look at the Legislature’s accomplishments and say, “Thanks for a job well done.”

And this year is unlikely to be any different. Right now, about the only thing Minnesotans can say is, “Dammit, just get the job done.”

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