by Dennis Dalman
Two bills, both mainly authored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell), passed the Minnesota House of Representatives on the same day last week – March 20.
Both bills moved on to the Minnesota Senate for consideration.
One of O’Driscoll’s bills, which has won both support and opposition statewide, is the School-Trust Land Bill, HF 2244, that proposes to take control of school-trust lands away from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and place those lands management in the hands of a Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission and a Permanent School Fund Board, to be appointed by the governor.
School-trust lands are those that can generate revenue (through forestry, mining, leases, farming, grazing – depending on the state) that is then distributed to school districts throughout the state for education funding. Such lands derive from the time Minnesota (and other states) were founded, and the federal government decreed each township should dedicate two sections as school-trust lands. Since then, however most of those lands have been sold or traded.
Currently, there are 2.5 million acres of school-trust lands in the state, mainly in northeast Minnesota.
O’Driscoll and many other legislators believe the annual amount generated from those lands could be increased under new management. Currently, they bring in anywhere from $22-$27 million for school districts annually. O’Driscoll said that amount puts the Minnesota Permanent School Fund in the lowest one-third of school-trust lands in the nation. New management, O’Driscoll argues, could increase the annual income by 10 percent.
“This legislation,” O’Driscoll wrote, “would eliminate the ‘inherent conflict’ some see with the DNR managing this land.”
Some people, including many environmentalists, oppose O’Driscoll’s bill, claiming it could lead to mining lobbyists twisting the arms of legislators to allow mining on those lands, causing environmental degradation.
Another O’Driscoll-authored bill passed March 20 by the House is the Local Government Bank Deposits Bill. The bill (HF 2171) would permit school districts, counties and cities to deposit funds in their official depository bank or credit union.
That could happen under an arrangement that would permit the depository bank to re-deposit the funds into accounts at other banks that would serve as sub-custodians of the funds.
That arrangement, O’Driscoll said, would give local government more freedom to make decisions about their money. It would also, he added, create more jobs and opportunities for Minnesota banks and credit unions.