MPIRG picks up lobby efforts in Legislature

by Travis Reed

Minneapolis Public Interest Research Group organizers are stepping up lobbying efforts as this year’s state legislative session kicks off.
MPIRG, in coordination with more than 20 other local environmental and conservation groups, is pushing for the passage of the Legacy Initiative — a comprehensive funding proposal designed to meet a variety of environmental needs in one bill.
Last week, MPIRG conducted a statewide survey to gauge student response for land-usage issues addressed in the proposal that covers issues ranging from land conservation to hunting and fishing rights. Organizers expect the survey results will give the proposal added weight when the bill is debated.
“The surveys give us a factual basis for working on these issues,” said Jonathan Guzzo, MPIRG membership director. “If students support us, it gives us a lot more power as a student organization.”
Guzzo also said students are generally more conscious of environmental issues than most other demographics.
Bill Droessler, MPIRG program coordinator, says the proposal has already garnered strong support in both houses of the legislature and from the student body in general.
“It’s going much better and at a much faster pace than I’ve anticipated,” Droessler said. “The number of volunteers that want to do internships and work on it is amazing.”
The strength of the legislation is in its bipartisan nature, say MPIRG coordinators. The bill is authored by a mix of Republicans and Democrats in both houses.
Last Thursday, six students involved with MPIRG attended the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee meeting to support the bill. The committee is chaired by Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, co-author of the legislation.
Though no official action was taken on the initiative, it was first on the committee’s agenda, a sign that the bill is off to a good start.
“They aren’t looking at any citizen-originated bills like this right now,” Droessler said. “It’s recognition by the committee that this is an important bill.”
Droessler says one of the next steps for MPIRG is a letter-writing campaign in which students will send a picture of their favorite wilderness area along with a letter describing the land to their congressional representatives.
It is another way for MPIRG to play upon their strength as a consumer-advocate group.
“Our niche is creating material and doing grass-roots public support,” Droessler said. “We’re the only group doing this kind of grass-roots work. We’re getting citizens and people on the street involved.”

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.