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.
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ST. PAUL - Minnesota representatives struggle through marathon sessions passing budget bills this week and senators give final passage to more than 60 bills a day during what could be the most hectic week of the 2007 legislative session. The House faces a Saturday deadline to pass bills funding state programs. It spent 10 hours debating an environmental spending bill Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning. Then it turned to a public safety bill that took nearly four hours, ending at 5:30 a.m.
Minnesota shoppers who buy some gift cards would be protected under a bill passed Wednesday in the Senate. The bill, authored by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, eliminates expiration dates and service fees on gift cards not issued by federal banks. "I urge the governor to listen to Minnesota consumers and sign this legislation into law when it reaches his desk," Sieben said of the bill, which passed 43-16 in the Senate. A similar bill awaits a floor vote in the House.
Minnesota's minimum wage increases under a bill that received preliminary approval Wednesday in the Senate. On a 40-23 vote, senators approved an increase for both large and small employers. Businesses with annual sales of $625,000 would have to pay workers at least $7.75 per hour by August 2008. Smaller firms would be required to pay workers at least $6.75 an hour by that time. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, called the bill "another job-killing bill brought to you by the Senate Democrats." "I don't want to lose this great economy," he said. "But we're working in that direction."
Western Minnesota will receive more than $11 million of agriculture federal funds for conservation programs, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson says. The Detroit Lakes Democrat said the funds will be used to install conservation practices on farms in his 7th Congressional District. "Being such good stewards, it is important that they (farmers) have the financial and technical assistance needed to maintain the profitability of their farming operations and at the same time protecting our environment and supporting sustainable rural communities," Peterson said.
ST. PAUL - Hired hands may not be able to smoke in farm buildings if Minnesota lawmakers adopt a statewide smoking ban. "This seems to be more overreaching than people think," House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said during a Monday committee hearing. Seifert and Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said they fear farmers would have to enforce the smoking ban. "Do we want a big brother government making decisions for them?" Westrom asked. Bill author Rep.
ST. PAUL - Minnesota policymakers earlier this year decided 25 percent of the state's electricity should come from renewable sources, but now the movement is expanding to include motor vehicle fuel and other energy sources. Part of an agriculture funding bill the House passed 131-2 Tuesday would put that requirement into law. For instance, it would require 25 percent of fuel used in cars to be made from renewable sources such as plant-based ethanol by 2025. The mandate is in a $91 million appropriation for state agriculture programs in the two-year budget beginning July 1.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which runs Minnesota's largest casino, says the fact that it has donated more than $18 million proves American Indian gambling facilities help Minnesotans. "As Dakota people, we have a long tradition of sharing with others so it is important for us to give back to the larger community," tribal Chairman Stanley R. Crooks said. "Before Indian gaming, our community had dirt roads and many of us lived in poverty and struggled to survive. Times were hard.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's office made the most privately funded trips of any representative, the latest figures show. The Minnesota Democrat and his staff made 66 trips at a cost of $62,646 last year, the Center for Responsive Politics reported. Although his office took the most trips, others accepted more private money. Peterson just became chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and has traveled extensively. He took 14 of the trips, while staff members took the rest. Most were funded by farm-related organizations
ST. PAUL - Five weeks remain in the Minnesota legislative session, but the Senate's Republican leader already is talking about a special session. "I am very, very worried about a special session," Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester said Friday. "We have so much to do in so little time." Others were not going that far, but as the House prepares for a week of furious activity passing more than $35 billion of spending bills - plus a tax bill to raise money - the divide between Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled Legislature did not appear to be shrinking.