Green Acres headed for final vote
ST. PAUL - A balance between development and preserving farmland is due for a decision.
Full House and Senate votes may come as early as Monday on a "Green Acres" provision that would allow land to remain in farms by keeping property taxes lower than if the land were used to residential or commercial development.
"We created a new category for land called 'rural preservation,' which will allow rural property owners to receive tax relief for non-productive land, as well as for agricultural property," said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. "The criteria for Green Acres remains the same; this new category applies to parcels enrolled in Green Acres that weren't actually qualified to be there. We now have a place for them."
A House-Senate conference committee late Thursday reached a compromise between the two bodies' bills.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she expects the full House to debate the issue Monday.
Green Acres was created to help farmers keep property taxes down even though the land could be taxed at higher rates if it were developed. A law change last year made keeping lower tax rates more difficult and caused many landowners to consider selling land for non-farm use.
$30.6 billion budget
The House Ways and Means Committee Friday voted to limit state General Fund spending to $30.6 billion in the two-year budget lawmakers are writing.
That is $2 billion less than Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposes.
Ways and Means Chairman Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said the House has received more than 6,000 comments and more than 1,500 people have testified about the pending budget.
The Legislature is giving Minnesotans an opportunity to comment on the budget via House and Senate Web sites.
House staff members divided the comments into categories, like finance or higher education, and then sent the comments to appropriate committees.
The Senate's site is more of a discussion board for the public. It went live on Jan. 15, and has received 300 to 500 visits a day.
A bill spending $152 million in the next two years to clean Minnesota's water will be considered by legislators.
Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, and Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, propose the expenditure from a higher sales tax voters approved last November.
"Funding the clean water legacy will keep the promise made to voters that we are going to ensure clean water for future Minnesotan generations," Frederickson said.
The money would help Minnesota meet requirements in the 1972 federal clean water act.
Force bill eyed
A bill awaiting Minnesota legislative action would legally protect people who use deadly force to defend themselves against criminals.
The proposal would rewrite laws regulating the use of deadly force in self-defense, extending protection to cars and businesses. Current law only protects victims while inside the home.
"Currently, you would have to wait for the person to step to you and attack you and put you in fear of great bodily harm or witness him commit a felony in your presence before you could use deadly force," said the bill's author, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.
If a person enters a home without permission, then "there is a presumption that he is there to do you at least substantial bodily harm," Cornish said. "He ain't there to sell Girl Scout cookies."
Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, said some people get sued by criminals after they defend themselves. Pariseau said this is "not a license to go out and shoot people."
"We have to enable people to not be placed in a position of legal risk," Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, said.
"You shouldn't have to back down," Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said.
Rep. Ryan Winkler is pushing plans to increase oversight of Minnesota's finances.
A legislative auditor report indicates what Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, says is a troubling lack of oversight.
His comments on Friday came a day after Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled a Web site that allows the public to follow how the state spends money. That was not enough for Winkler.
"You need more than a Web site and a prayer to manage the state's business," Winkler said.
Winkler and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the audit raises questions about whether the Pawlenty administration is ready to track $9 billion in federal economic stimulus funds.
In Pawlenty's latest budget proposal, he includes added money for more fiscal auditors.
James Parthun is a University of Minnesota journalism student writing stories for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau.