Daily Digest: House GOP fights nitrate rules

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Good morning and happy Tuesday. Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to announce his choice today to replace David Stras on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Here's the Digest.

1. House acts to head off pollution regulation. The Minnesota House passed a bill Monday that would require the Legislature to give final approval to new regulations on nitrogen fertilizer aimed at protecting drinking water. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been working on a proposed Groundwater Protection Rule, which would regulate farmers' use of nitrogen fertilizer in areas where groundwater is sensitive to nitrate contamination. The bill, which passed the House Monday on a 69-56 vote, would require the Legislature to approve the final rule. The bill's author, Rep. Jeff Backer, said farmers have been blindsided by new regulations from the Dayton administration. "There's concerns from landowners, and we need to make sure it's fully vetted," said Backer, R-Browns Valley. The Dayton administration says it has spent months getting input from farmers on the rule, including 17 public listening sessions. The rule was revised significantly based on feedback. Dayton has said he will veto bills that attempt to block its implementation. (MPR News)

2. Standard designed to protect wild rice in dispute. Minnesota's state grain — wild rice — is at the center of a battle at the Capitol over water infrastructure, mining, Native American heritage and environmental protection. Wild rice grows in water, so it's affected by water pollution. But how do you regulate the pollution in a way that protects wild rice while also taking care of the industries and communities that pollute? Environmental groups, tribal organizations and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency want to preserve a longstanding rule on sulfate discharges. The rule is rarely enforced, but it's aimed at protecting wild rice waters from sulfate pollution coming from wastewater treatment plants and industrial operations such as mining. Studies have shown sulfate can negatively affect wild rice. Republicans are working to nullify the old rule, and Democrats representing Minnesota's Iron Range support that effort. Other DFLers, especially those in the Twin Cities, oppose it. (MPR News)

3. Committee debates lower minimum wage for some restaurant workers. Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow a lower minimum wage for some tipped employees. The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance committee held a lengthy hearing on the proposal today Monday and kept it in play for possible future action later this session. Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, said his bill would help restaurant owners and their employees. “It’s about preserving their jobs, preserving their way of life,” McDonald said. Under the bill, large employers could pay a lower base wage, if the worker’s combined wages and tips averaged more than $14 per hour. Small employers would have an average $12 per hour threshold for their workers. “Freezing wages for people who are working in tipped jobs is not going to save our economy,” Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said. (MPR News)

4. Phifer hasn't decided on primary. The leader in delegate voting throughout last weekend's 8th Congressional District DFL convention may not be moving to the primary this summer. Leah Phifer told the News Tribune on Monday she will take the next two weeks off from campaigning and fundraising to decide whether to file for the primary. "We're giving ourselves until the end of April," she said. "We want to do what's best for the district." Phifer won on all 10 delegate ballots at Saturday's convention in Duluth, but she fell short of the 60 percent delegate threshold the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party requires for endorsement — topping out at 52 percent. Phifer explained her candidacy was always reliant on and respectful of an endorsement and that she never planned to go to a primary. Joe Radinovich, Jason Metsa, Michelle Lee and Kirsten Kennedy have all said they will press their campaigns into the August 14 primary election. (Duluth News Tribune)

5. Trooien running for Senate. A real estate developer from Mendota Heights is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent. Jerry Trooien is seeking the seat currently held by DFLer Tina Smith. Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Smith to fill the vacancy created by Al Franken’s resignation. Smith is running, as is Republican Karin Housley. During a state Capitol news conference Monday, Trooien said running as an independent was his only option. “For me it would be impossible to run through one of the major parties now, simply because I couldn’t get boxed into a corner of dealing with the bases and all that stuff,” Trooien said. Trooien first declared his intentions Sunday in a full-page ad that ran in Minnesota newspapers. As an independent candidate, Trooien will need to collect 2,000 signatures on a petition to get his name on the ballot. Trooien said he has been “knocked around” a few times in business, including a well-publicized bankruptcy. He declined to say how much of his own money he is planning to spend on the campaign. (MPR News)