Sartell legislator’s school trust lands law signed by Dayton

/ 30 April 2012 / jennifer

Mark Sommerhauser, St. Cloud Times, April 30, 2012 –

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton has signed into law a measure championed by a Sartell legislator to change how Minnesota manages 2.5 million acres of land held in trust for school districts.

Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, and other supporters say the law is needed because the overseer of the lands, the Department of Natural Resources, hasn’t done enough to maximize their value.

“This is a good day for education and for the kids in the state of Minnesota,” O’Driscoll said.

The new law creates a new position of director of Minnesota’s school trust lands, most of which are in northern Minnesota. The director will handle long-range planning of how to manage the lands.

The bill also establishes a new commission of 12 legislators to advise the new director on managing the lands. The new commission replaces the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee, which is made up of lawmakers, agency heads and citizens.

Mining, logging and other revenues generated by the trust lands go into the Permanent School Fund, and interest and dividends from the fund are distributed twice each year to Minnesota school districts.

Should he be re-elected this November, O’Driscoll said he’ll ask to be named to the new legislative commission. Its members should be appointed by House and Senate leaders by January 2013.

While the measure makes significant changes, it was scaled back from O’Driscoll’s initial proposal, which would have taken management of the lands completely out of the hands of the DNR. The department retains authority to administer the trust lands under the measure that was signed into law.

The school trust lands bill passed the Legislature with near-unanimous Republican support and some DFL support. It drew opposition from environmental groups and some DFLers, who worried it could allow the school trust lands to be exploited for short-term financial gain instead of being conserved.