Dems accuse GOP of passing flawed Minnesota land-swap bill

During debate, Republicans said the swap would allow Minnesota to develop other land, which would help fund schools in the state. The land it now owns was given to the state when it joined the union, and was designed to be developed to help fund education programs in the state. But in 1978, Congress passed a law designating an 86,000 acre parcel of that land as part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, making it unusable.

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"This will rectify a decades-old injustice that was opposed by Congress during the Carter administration to ensure that funding for schools and education in Minnesota is carried on," Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said during floor debate.

But Democrats argued that the bill does not specify what land the federal government would get in return, which could raise environmental concerns.

"Neither the people of Minnesota nor the people of the United States have any idea if we will lose lands critical to protecting drinking water, or vital to hunting or motorized recreation," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-N.M.) said. "There is no map. The federal lands to be traded are not identified."

He also said it's unclear under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), whether the federal government would get back an equal value of land.

"By failing to ensure that our that our assets are appropriately valued as part of the exchange, Congressman Cravaack's bill short-changes the American taxpayer," he said. "H.R. 5544 defers to the state of Minnesota to decide the value of federal lands."

The bill was also opposed by a Democrat from Minnesota, Rep. Betty McCollum.

"This is the first time in history of … the Congress to bring a bill, a land exchange to the floor, without maps specifying what land is to be exchanged," she said.

"Can anyone here today tell me how many Minnesota cabin owners could open up their front doors and find a lack of public access to water that they have used and recreated in for years? There's no map. No one can answer that question.

"Can anyone tell me how many millions of dollars Minnesota will lose in property values because of issues like this? No one can answer that question."

Republicans rejected these complaints and said once passed, the bill would allow Minnesota to manage the process. They also added that Minnesota's own environmental laws would dictate that process, and that the land now designated as wilderness would retain that designation.

Democrats offered four amendments aimed at addressing these issues, but all were turned away in roll call votes. The amendments were from:

• McCollum, to ensure treaty rights for Indian tribes whose land might otherwise be taken in the land swap. Failed 201-213.

• Rush Holt (D-N.J.), to give the federal government oversight in the development of the land exchange. Failed 177-236.

• Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), to ensure that no National Forest System lands are included in the exchange if doing so hurts private property interests. Failed 190-225.

• Grijalva, to replace appraisal language in the bill. Failed 191-223.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, which is not expected to take it up.