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Minnesota Legislature: Lawmakers begin Passover-Easter break

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers begin a Passover-Easter break today with most of their major 2009 work left.

When they return to St. Paul on April 14, senators and representatives will have less than five weeks to accomplish their biggest task - writing a $33 billion, two-year budget that plugs a $6.4 billion deficit.

The State Constitution requires lawmakers to adjourn by May 18, although there is talk in the Capitol that lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty may not be able to plug the record-high deficit by then. A failure would send the Legislature into a special session this summer.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, on Tuesday was one of the few legislators to publicly express doubts about the ability to finish on time. "A lot of budget bills will barely make it."

After shepherding a public schools funding bill through the Senate by eight votes, he said other budget bills may be even tougher to pass. His cut education 3.2 percent; other areas are cut up to 7 percent.

House and Senate Democrats each propose chopping more than $2 billion in programs. Pawlenty proposes a $1.6 billion cut.

The House would raise taxes $1.5 billion and the Senate $2 billion. Pawlenty would not raise state taxes, but he does propose borrowing $1 billion for operating funds. Legislative leaders have not said what taxes they would raise.

So far, the Legislature has passed a fix to a Green Acres law that gives farmers a property tax break when they live near developed areas and a bill that requires lawmakers to balance the budget four years out.

Both chambers have passed public works funding bills, but they must negotiate a compromise.

The only budget bill to pass so far is the Senate education funding plan, but more may be debated late next week.

Lawmakers gave themselves a May 12 deadline to send all budget and tax bills to the governor.

Bow fishing?

Some anglers are angling for an extended bow fishing season.

A trial bow season was held last year. Now, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, proposes extending the season from May 1 to the last Sunday in February. Fishing would be allowed both in day and night.

House and Senate committees are considering the concept.

Mark Morrison of the Land of Lakes Bow Fishing Association warned lawmakers of congested conditions on the 73 lakes and rivers where bow fishing is allowed.

Highways approved

Minnesota House members agreed Tuesday to memorialize one of their former leaders.

Representatives voted 132-0 to name a stretch of Highway 53 in far northern Minnesota after former House Speaker Irv Anderson, DFL- International Falls, who died last year.

Senators already approved the legislation, which allows for signs to be placed along the highway in Anderson's name.

"He traveled this stretch of highway hundreds and hundreds of times back and forth to the Capitol," Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said of Anderson.

Also Tuesday, representatives unanimously approved naming portions of Clearwater County highways in honor of veterans. Local veterans' organizations would pay for signs.

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