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Change may come to invasive species decal law

Many resort owners and boaters strongly object to a new law written to stop invasive species from spreading through Minnesota waters, and they have been heard.

Legislators are looking into whether to scuttle the law, passed in 2012, or to tweak it into something more acceptable.

The existing law requires boaters and others who tow boats and other trailers carrying water equipment to take classes, beginning this year, about how to avoid transferring aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels from one water body to another. Then they would have to pay for a decal for their trailers to show they passed the class.

The Department of Natural Resources opted to put the law on hold because it appeared there was movement in the Legislature to change or overturn it.

A House committee last week voted to scrap the law, while on Tuesday a Senate panel voted for a compromise that would delay implementation of much of the law and remove charges for the class and decals. Both bills have more committee stops before reaching House and Senate votes, and a conference committee likely would be needed to work out differences between what the two chambers pass.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said that something like his compromise that passed the Senate committee is likely to become law.

He said the House bill by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, to eliminate current law has no chance of passing the Senate. If the House insists on the Drazkowski bill, rejecting the Saxhaug compromise, the senator said that current law would remain in place.

"Education is critical to this whole aquatic invasive species idea," Saxhaug said. "We are not trying to stop tourism in the state in any way, shape or form, but what we are trying to do is to make sure everyone on the state knows how to clean their boats."

Resort owners say the decal program in existing law already has cost them business.

Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association, said Geiger’s Trail End Resort north of Grand Rapids lost a $12,000 booking because prospective visitors from Michigan believed they could be put in jail without a decal.

“This decal program is causing a tremendous amount of stress and concern among our members, but more importantly, for their guests and potential guests,” McElroy said.

Jeff Forrester of the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Association said that one of five boats violates laws banning transport of aquatic invasive species between state waters. Just adding a test to the invasive species class would convince people to read literature the state distributes on the subject.

“I’ll let you judge if the inconvenience of learning this material and taking this test outweighs the good it might do in protecting Minnesota’s lakes and river,” Forester said.

Besides removing costs to citizens from taking the class (mostly online) and getting the decal, the Saxhaug bill would delay a financial penalty for breaking the decal law until 2017. It then would be $25.

Jonathan Mohr of the nonpartisan Minnesota House Session Daily online publication ( contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.