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Minnesota Legislature: Senators reject taking Twin Cities money

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, tells a committee Tuesday about his bill that would embed a computer chip into driver's licenses to identify the holder as an American citizen. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators blasted an idea to take $95 million a year from Twin Cities transit programs to fund school bus programs around the state, but leaned toward considering school buses as part of the transit system.

"Education needs to get their own money," Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, told bill sponsor Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar.

However, several senators in the Transportation Committee on Tuesday said they liked the idea of combining school bus and transit programs -- or at least investigating the possibility. For instance, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said he would like to combine efforts of the blue rural transit buses driving in his district with the yellow school buses.

The committee took no action on Gimse's proposal, with Chairman Murphy telling Gimse and others to see if they could find a way to make the concept work without taking money out of Twin Cities' transit accounts.

Gimse said he received more than 50 letters and e-mails from schools that support his concept of increasing per-pupil transportation funding about $137. However, Twin Cities area legislators said they would not support taking money from their transit programs to be spread across the state.

The Willmar senator, in his first term, said students are finding themselves walking longer distance to schools and districts have trouble keeping aging bus fleets safe.

The biggest complaints about the measure came on the funding plan.

"Maybe you'd like to give up your ethanol money to serve transportation," Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, told Gimse.

Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, said that rural schools hurt financially. His district, for instance receives $5,140 a year per student less than in Minneapolis, he said.

Embedded chip

Minnesotans would find it easier to return to the United States if their driver's licenses contained a computer chip that identified them as Americans, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf told a Senate committee Tuesday.

A bill written by Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, would give Minnesota drivers the option of paying $15 to have those chips embedded in licenses. The chips could be read by devices at the border, allowing a quicker return to this country, he said.

Regular border crossers, such as truckers, would get the most benefit.

The Senate Transportation Committee passed the bill on a voice vote, but it faces several other committee stops before reaching a full Senate vote.

Adding the chip would be voluntary, so not every license would have one.

Another pot OK

Bills allowing critically ill patients to use marijuana to ease pain continue to pass through committees.

The Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division on Tuesday approved the bill, written by Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. Today, it faces another House committee test. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, sponsors the House version.

In Tuesday committee debate, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said that allowing marijuana use is an easy, simple and affordable solution to ease pain. Many pain medications are not affordable, she said.

The point of the bill "is to reduce people's pain in their final days," she said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.