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State lawmaker proposes streamling state's environmental funding

ST. PAUL - Partisan politics influencing the spending of environmental dollars has one Minnesota lawmaker is proposing a change.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, proposes eliminating the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the Clean Water Council and the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, all of which include citizen members.

He would replace them with a single commission consisting of 12 members -- six Republicans, six Democrats split evenly between the House and Senate.

The proposal, Hansen said, would streamline government and ease the process of applying for funds.

"You have groups that are applying for all three funds," he said. "They are going through three processes for three pots of money. ... You could reduce that duplication of effort."

Citizens would not sit on the new commission, but still would provide feedback. Decisions would be in the hands of legislators, who are accountable to the public, Hansen said.

Under the current system, legislators retain final say in what goes into a bill. The three panels make recommendations, but the State Constitution reserves appropriation duties to lawmakers.

The bill stems partially from the legislative-citizens commission funding debate this legislative session. Republican leaders stripped funding for several commission-recommended projects and replaced them with projects they say are more in line with new legislative priorities.

Hansen wants to model the new agency after the Legislative Audit Commission, a bipartisan group that reviews and evaluates state government. That body, he said, is well respected and devoid of such partisan battles.

Molly Pederson, governmental affairs director for Conservation Minnesota, said her organization believes citizen expertise is a valuable part of the existing process.

"That is a very big problem," she said of Hansen's proposal.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he also would like to retain citizen involvement. He is concerned about the structure of Hansen's proposal.

"It would be a very, very, very powerful 12 legislators," McNamara said. "I think the broadness of power would be too much."

Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer working for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.