As the first meeting Monday of the House-Senate conference committee, set for 11 a.m., came and went without a gavel falling, sporting group leaders scrambled in advance of a re-scheduled 3 p.m. gathering to lodge complaints about a deal that supposedly had been cut to break a logjam over Legacy Amendment legislation.
Senators Saxhaug, Frederickson and Anderson, meeting with House conferees on behalf of Senate conference committee chair Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, reportedly cut a deal Monday afternoon that sporting group leaders say is "dead on arrival'' if it isn't changed.
Among problems, according to sources who have seen the tentative agreement:
1) It awards $2 million to fight emerald ash borer disease, against the wishes of the Lessard council, and probably unconstitutionally, in that it does not fall within the confines of "habitat'' as detailed in the amendment approved in November by voters.
2) It changes the name of the Lessard council to the Lessard-Sams council, favoring the late Sen. Dallas Sams. Nothing wrong here; Sams was a champion of conservation. But the intent is to slap at the council, sportsmen say, and particularly at Lessard, who was a longtime thorn in the side of Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis
, and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.
3) It delays implementation of the Conservation Partners program until 2010 — a year after everyone else gets their money, from artists to parks and trails advocates. "They do that and the legislation is dead,'' said Gary Leaf, executive director of SportsmenForChange.org.
Key members of the Lessard council have seen the brokered agreement — they did so in early afternoon Monday — and lodged their complaints and concerns. These include council chair Mike Kilgore and member Bob Schroeder. Also, Leaf rushed into Cohen's office after hearing details of the tentative pact, and is meeting there now, at 3:42 p.m., and Leaf also alerted staff of Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller.
Pogemiller had told Leaf and other sporting group leaders that he would not approve changes they disfavored, Leaf said.
As this is being written — at 3:42 p.m. Monday — meetings are still going on in Cohen's office. Meanwhile, the hearing room down the hall in the Capitol, is filled to overflowing to see what the conferees ultimately will approve in appropriating what amounts to $210 million ($70 million for fish, game and habitat) in new money — rare for a session punctuated by big deficits.
Projected meeting time best-guess: about 5 p.m. — only hours before the Legislature is to adjourn.