LSP Helps Keep Local Control Strong (Again)

During the recently concluded 2016 session of the Minnesota Legislature, the Land Stewardship Project and our allies stopped a significant attempt to weaken local control of controversial developments in the state.

For decades, LSP has fended off efforts by corporate interests to limit local control of potentially harmful and unwanted development proposals. As in past years, LSP members' direct engagement with legislators this session played a decisive role in stopping anti-local control legislation. This legislation was a priority for well-connected corporate interests. As a grassroots organization, our position, strategy and strength on this issue is derived directly from the experience and passion of our members. These members want strong authority at the local level to stop corporate interests pushing unwanted developments that pose significant threats to the environmental and human health of communities.

The anti-local legislation came in the form of two bills:

  • House File 2585 — authored by Reps. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), Mark Uglem (R-Champlin), Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), Josh Heintzeman (R-Baxter) and Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines)
  • Senate File 2694authored by Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina)

These bills would have weakened the interim ordinance powers of townships and cities. Interim ordinances are key to local control—they allow cities and townships to quickly put a temporary moratorium on major development. This is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful proposals, especially those from outside corporate interests. These are development proposals that the zoning ordinance didn’t anticipate and so doesn’t fully address. Interim ordinances have been used to respond to proposals for the establishment of factory farms and frac sand mines, among other developments.

The 2016 anti-local control legislation would have made it difficult for cities or townships to adopt an interim ordinance in the first place, and especially to pass one in time to be effective. It would have required a two-thirds super majority to enact an interim ordinance, instead of the current simple majority.

It also would have required a public hearing and public notice before adopting many interim ordinances. Currently, an interim ordinance can be adopted at any public meeting without any special notice requirement. Being able to adopt an interim ordinance in this manner is crucial, since it is an emergency power used to deal with unexpected situations. Requiring weeks or months of public notice would mean that often the interim ordinance could not be adopted in time to be effective.

Here are some highlights of how the battle over local control went during the session:

• March 24: House File 2585 got its first hearing and passed the House Government Operations Committee. LSP members and township officers Alan Perish of Todd County and Kathleen Doran-Norton of Rice County testified in opposition. The League of Cities also gave strong testimony in opposition.

• April 1: Two bill co-authors removed their names. Sen. Karin Housley and Rep. Paul Thissen, who were originally co-authors, took their names off after learning more from LSP members and staff about the bills’ full impacts on local democracy.

• April 4: Senate File 2694 stalled in committee. Attempting to get her bill through the Senate State and Local Government committee, Sen. Franzen amended it to remove the super-majority requirement, lower the public notice from 30 days to 10 days, and exempt townships from the bill. LSP and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership testified in opposition. Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Jim Abler (R- Anoka) both spoke in strong opposition. No Senator spoke in favor. With that, committee chair Sen. Patricia Torres Ray tabled the bill. It needed to advance past this committee to meet legislative deadlines and stay viable as a stand-alone bill.

• April 14: Rep. Nash amended language into the House State Government Operations Finance Bill. Rep. Nash amended language to this larger finance bill that required cities to give a 10-day notice and hold a public hearing before adopting an interim ordinance. This language became part of the large Omnibus Supplemental Finance Bill to be resolved in conference committee during end-of-session negotiations.

• May 11: Rep. Nash brought HF 2585 up on the House Floor. Reps. David Bly (DFL- Northfield), Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis), Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) and John Considine (DFL-Mankato) spoke against the bill. It passed with 47 votes in opposition. However, with no Senate companion, it could not move as a stand-alone bill.

• May 22: The conference committee did not adopt language weakening local control! Senate members of the Omnibus Supplemental Finance Bill continued to get calls from LSP members up until the end of the session and did not accept Rep. Nash’s House language on weakening interim ordinance powers.

Bobby King is an LSP organizer focusing on state and local issues. He can be contacted at 612-722-6377 or bking@landstewardshipproject.org.