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Legislative Notebook: Another step taken to speed business permits

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ST. PAUL - A second step in speeding up state-issued permits to businesses looking to expand or build in the state became law Monday.

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"This is a very rewarding moment," Gov. Mark Dayton said minutes after signing the bill that he and Republican lawmakers say will help Minnesota's business climate.

The law builds on one enacted a year ago to set a 150-day goal for the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency to issue construction permits. Those agencies must issue permits before many business projects may continue.

The new law allows businesses to hire their own permit manager, instead of relying on the state to do that work. It also allows businesses "to get their questions answered in a more timely fashion," bill author Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said.

House author Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said governments wanting to do projects such as building roads also should get faster action.

Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said the law does not affect the eventual outcome of permit applications, just speeds things along. The new law does not threaten the environment, he added.

Also in the law is a provision that extends feedlot permits to 10 years; they now last five years. About 1,000 feedlots have permits.

The law establishes a pilot streamlined environmental study for Magnetation, which is requesting permits to build a new iron ore concentrate plant on the Iron Range.

Another part of the bill allows wood to be a cellulosic biofuel.

inancial literacy

Lawmakers, state leaders, students and military members joined together Monday to encourage Minnesotans to learn more about finances and promote programs that would help them do so.

Dayton proclaimed April Financial Literacy Month and announced outreach efforts planned across the state. Each week of the month, events will focus on financial issues facing different groups, from grade school children to veterans and members of the military to seniors.

Topics will include student loans and financial aid, family budgeting, home ownership finances and avoiding fraud.

"Knowledge is the best defense from fraud and financial abuse," Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said.

Learning how to make financial decisions and budget is even more important in this time of economic difficulties, he added.

Lawmakers are contributing to the efforts as well, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said. For example, he said a health and human services bill approved by the House last week includes a provision to continue task force work on financial literacy in Minnesota.

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White Earth picks bank

The Credit Suisse bank will finance a Twin Cities casino if the White Earth Nation wins legislative and Gov. Mark Dayton's approval.

"They share our confidence that a metro casino will be a win for Minnesota taxpayers and a win for White Earth Nation," tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said in a letter to legislative leaders. "The expertise and financial resources of Credit Suisse also open the door to creative solutions to build the metro casino."

So far, the White Earth proposal to build a Twin Cities casino has obtained little traction in the Minnesota Legislature.

Vizenor said the state could get up to $1 billion in new revenue in the first five years of casino operation.

Casino construction and related costs would total $700 million.

Others tribes that operate casinos in the Twin Cities area oppose the White Earth plan.

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Faster honor guard pay

Dayton signed a bill Monday that would allow veteran service organizations to receive reimbursements for honor guard services at funerals in a timely manner.

The bill was approved unanimously in the House and Senate. It will be in effect for services provided on or after July 1.

Honor guards have reported late state payments. Last year, lawmakers approved more money for the honor guards after reports that state funds ran out, leaving honor guards to work for no expense payments.

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Office merging OK'd

Senators voted 36-26 to allow Jackson, Kandiyohi and Dodge counties to merge their county auditor and treasurer offices.

The House also would have to approve the measure and the governor sign it to become law.

Several counties have won legislative approval to make the move in recent years in the name of efficiency.

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