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Minnesota Senate votes to lift nuke ban

ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators Thursday voted to end a long-time moratorium on nuclear-power plant construction.

The long-divisive issue passed 42-24 as an amendment to an overall energy bill that later received tentative Senate approval.

"Nuclear power is clean," Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said. "Nuclear power is good and we need to continue it."

Dille said he was surprised that his amendment passed. But he was not confident the provision would remain after House-Senate negotiations on the overall energy bill.

"I guess the answer is how they construct the conference committee," he said of whether the House-Senate negotiating panel gets stacked with moratorium supporters.

The provision only would lift the ban to allow nuclear energy to be considered. It does not require construction of a new nuclear plant.

The provision was supported by Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, but opposed by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, earlier this legislative session withdrew a bill to end the moratorium, citing lack of support. A House committee defeated a version of the moratorium.

The sponsor of the overall energy bill said the issue needs discussion, but problems with waste nuclear fuel storage remain serious.

"I think it does need further discussion," Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said. "I feel there still are significant questions about storage that need to be addressed."

Prettner Solon said that while she was glad to have the discussion about the measure, the House supports the moratorium, so the law likely will remain as is.

Murphy said that casks holding Prairie Island nuclear power plant storage in his district are safe.

"You can walk up and hug these casks," Murphy said. "It is nothing to be afraid of."

The Red Wing senator said he would be willing "to pitch a pup tent right now on the berms" next to the waste casks.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, said the waste danger is too great to consider lifting the moratorium. She was involved when legislators passed the moratorium in 1994.

Recount changes proposed

Some lawmakers want to set a higher bar for Minnesota election recounts.

Legislation proposes to lower the threshold that determines whether a state-paid hand recount will occur - from a margin of victory of less than 0.5 percent to 0.25 percent.

It would apply to congressional offices, statewide races, legislative contests and both statewide and district-level judicial races.

The proposed changes follow two statewide election recounts last year - a Supreme Court race in the primary election and the U.S. Senate general election.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, also would require that a candidate formally request a recount.

Hilty's bill Thursday passed a House election committee on a voice vote and awaits further committee action. Similar legislation is moving in the Senate.

Sharing OK'd

Senators gave tentative approval Thursday to encouraging school districts to share services.

In an effort to save money, the bill by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, the bill establishes rules that encourage districts going together to pay for services or to buy goods together.

With a budget deficit like the state faces, Bonoff said, such savings are important.

Pot bill to floor

The entire Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill to allow critical ill Minnesotans to use marijuana to ease the pain.

The Finance Committee voted 9-3 in favor of the bill Thursday, its last stop before it reaches the Senate floor.

It also is moving through House committees.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report. Wente and Don Davis work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.