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Legislative notebook: Racino heads for Senate vote

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Legislative notebook: Racino heads for Senate vote
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL -- What started out as a minor education-related bill morphed Friday into a measure allowing casinos at Minnesota's two horse-racing tracks.


The so-called racino proposal now could receive a full Senate vote after it stalled earlier.

State revenue from racinos would be used to help pay schools more than $2 billion the state owes them after delaying payments to help balance the state budget.

The Senate Finance Committee amended the racino onto a small bill and argued about the issue more than two hours before approving the measure amid confusion.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, repeatedly tried to water down the racino provision, eventually failing amid disputes among Republicans. Hann and Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-South St. Paul, unsuccessfully tried a variety of parliamentary maneuvers to stop the issue.

Hann is an outspoken opponent of expanding gambling.

Racino opponents say that allowing racinos in Twin Cities suburbs could take business away from rural tribal casinos.

However, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the state builds roads and otherwise helps tribal casinos, but gets no money in return.

Racino supporters say allowing slot machines at the two race tracks would provide the state millions of dollars a year. Opponents say racinos would hurt tribal casinos and gambling is not the way to support state programs.

The racino issue has been discussed for years, but Gov. Mark Dayton says he is leery of it because tribes would keep the issue tied up in court for years.

Minnesota farmers still will not be able to grow hemp, the House decided Friday on a 74-52 vote.

When considering what otherwise was a noncontroversial farm bill, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, offered an amendment to allow hemp farming once the federal government approves it.

Kahn said Minnesota farmers should have the same ability as those in North Dakota to grow the product that can be used for paper, fuel and other products.

"One of the favorite lotions that I have is made out of hemp," Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said, holding up a bottle of the product.

Northwestern Minnesota is a good place to grow hemp, added Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, saying it would give farmers in his area another commodity they could grow to make money.

However, bill sponsor Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said the proposal should have been considered by the Agriculture Committee, not by the full House.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said law enforcement agencies oppose the hemp proposal because of its close relationship with marijuana.

Representatives also turned down attempts to allow a wider sale of raw milk and to urge the federal government to drop Cuba trade sanctions.

Minnesota lawmakers want to amend outdoors bills making their way through the Legislature to open the fishing season a week earlier.

The fishing opener usually falls on Mother's Day weekend, so Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, suggested advancing it a week.

"In what is shaping up to be a do-nothing legislative session, today we are offering a proposal that we hope will give citizens of Minnesota something to feel good about," Bakk and Dill said in a joint statement.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and others also support the idea.

"We have just come off an incredibly difficult winter for Minnesota's resort and tourism industry, which saw almost no snow in most areas of the state and terrible ice conditions with record early ice-outs," Skoe said in a news release. "Businesses that are dependent on winter tourism had a rough year, and an extra week of the fishing season would give them a big boost."

They call the suggestion the "mom's amendment."

Senators voted 54-8 Friday to require the state to better manage land it hold to fund schools.

School trust lands, mostly in northern Minnesota, do not produce as much income as some legislators want. The bill senators passed requires the Department of Natural Resources to give "undivided loyalty" to making money from the land, Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said.

A commission and a governor-appointed advisor would oversee school land profits, which would come from areas such as lumbering or selling mineral rights.

The House is to consider a more drastic change, to remove school trust land supervision from the DNR and giving the job to a newly created entity.

Pioneer staff reports