A quick-witted, sharp-tongued Republican committee chairman from Shakopee found himself on the defensive late last week as civic leaders in his own county expressed serious concern about two bills that aim to rein in local government in the name of property rights.
It's a type of clash that's becoming more common as elected local leaders even in decidedly conservative suburbs and exurbs bridle at what they consider a sharp swerve to the hard right on the part of an ideology-driven GOP at the Capitol.
Rep. Mike Beard of Shakopee, who chairs the House transportation committee, was alternately pugnacious and conciliatory as he addressed pushback to bills that would:
Limit the right of local governments to call a temporary halt to development at a time when Scott County is approaching just the sort of situation that is resulting in moratoriums elsewhere in Minnesota: proposals to mine silica sand.
Grant to garbage haulers what local officials consider sweeping new rights to be compensated if they lose business because a city opts to cut down on the number of heavy trucks plying their streets.
Mark McNeill, city administrator in Shakopee, warned that the latter bill "significantly expands the definition" of a concept known as "taking," a term of art for government's encroaching on private property rights.
"Before, it's been [real estate], not business profits," he said, and by making taxpayers compensate haulers who get edged out of the field, "it makes it more difficult if not impossible to consider going to open to organized hauling," with a single operator bidding on an entire city's business.
Shakopee and Jordan have such systems now, and Savage has discussed at least tempering the rules of its open system. Indeed, all across the metro area, cities with battered, aging infrastructure are taking a closer look at drastically dropping the number of heavy trucks on residential streets.
As for the moratorium changes, asked Jordan Mayor Pete Ewals, "What is the problem we're trying to fix? This is a bad bill all the way around."
Beard pushed back much harder on the moratorium bill, House File 389, of which he's chief author, than on the garbage bill, House File 2084, of which he's only one of several co-sponsors.
If there's doubt in Scott County about the need for the moratorium bill, he said, it's because the problem doesn't lie in Scott County. "As a whole, you guys play nice. I don't have to defend private enterprise to anyone in this room," he said.
The problem elsewhere in Minnesota, he said, is cities and counties "crush you on moratoriums end on end on end. At the end of the day, you run the show. You have the police. ... People have used the force of law to beat applicants into submission. Turkey farms, cellphone towers, digital billboards -- a host of things. If I don't like what Earl's doing on his farm, I go down to the county board and they put on a moratorium. That's the problem."
House Research summarizes the bill as prohibiting "interim resolutions or ordinances from halting, delaying, or impeding consideration of a use, development, or subdivision for which a complete application is pending."
Responding to complaints that it came out of nowhere, Beard added: "This is the fifth year I've had the bill. It should come as no surprise. I have 60-some bills with my name on it and now I'm thinking, 'Gee, what other ones should I tell you about?' I don't know." Communication is his job, he said, but also that of their own associations and lobbyists.
In contrast, Beard was dismissive of the garbage truck bill. He said he signed on to it as a colleague who might need help on issues down the road. Once some of the complexities emerged, he said, the bill was passed on to another committee as a polite means of shelving it, and he doesn't expect it to go anywhere this year.
Last month the League of Minnesota cities alerted its members to the bill and added that it raises "substantial concerns for all levels of local government. The League, the Association of Minnesota Counties, Metro Cities, the Minnesota Inter-County Alliance, the Minnesota Association of Townships, the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Resource Recovery Association all oppose this legislation and are working together to prevent its passage."
David Peterson 952-746-3285