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Minnesota Legislature: Committee approves flood funding

DFL Sens. Dick Cohen of St. Paul and LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer discuss flood-funding issues Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee heard about the need for state money. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators are considering spending $67 million to help fund flood clean-up and prevention efforts, but that is not enough to protect communities such as Moorhead from future floods.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said the bill - which the Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed Wednesday - includes $500,000 for the Red River Valley Commission to study how to best prevent future floods. Only after that study is finished, he added, will communities know what is needed to fight floods.

The bill would spend more than $17 million to reimburse flood-fighting costs and to remove temporary sandbags and dikes. Another $50 million in loans would be used to build permanent flood-control structures.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration wrote much of the bill, consulting with Langseth and other local lawmakers.

Director Kris Eide of the state Homeland Security Office told the Finance Committee that 28 Minnesota counties have received a presidential disaster declaration due to flooding and other severe weather. The latest estimate is $27 million damage to public property.

While most federal response is aimed at public property, there are programs to help families rebuild, Eide added.

So far, more than 850 Minnesota families have registered with federal officials for aid. About $1.5 million in federal money is available to help them recover, she said.

Federal money will help pay for National Guard personnel who helped fight the flood and restore highways to good condition.

About $45 million of the $50 million in flood-prevention efforts would go to the Red River Valley. Other areas, such as Granite Falls, would get the rest.

Flood prevention efforts in response to the Red's 1997 flood helped save Red River Valley communities this year, Langseth said.

"Even though this flood was far worse, in Breckenridge there was no damage at all," the senator said. "We have got our money back several times on this disaster alone."

Marijuana approved

Senators voted to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana to ease their pain, with the Wednesday vote mirroring decisions they have made in past years.

After the 36-28 vote, attention on the topic now turns to the House, which has not passed the medical marijuana measure in past years.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red wing, said marijuana is a safe way to help those in extreme pain. "In the known written history of the world, no one has died of an overdone of marijuana."

But Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, a former Douglas County sheriff, opposed the measure, saying that allowing people to grow marijuana would make them victims of criminals who wanted to steal the plants.

The Alexandria Republican said the 12 plants a patient is allowed to grow would be worth $67,000 in illegal sales.

"Kids are watching to see what the Minnesota Legislature is going to do," Ingebrigtsen said. "We're on the wrong path."

The bill allows doctors to authorize marijuana use only for some illnesses. They could grow their own or buy up to 2.5 ounces from approved growers.

Trucks limited

Lawmakers gave final approval to a bill limiting truck traffic on an aging Stillwater bridge.

The semitrailer traffic using the bridge over the St. Croix River has been a growing problem in downtown Stillwater, where big trucks have difficulty making tight turns and have damaged city property, local lawmakers said.

The proposal limits trucks based on vehicle length, said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. That is a change from an earlier proposal that limited trucks based on weight.

"We think we finally have a solution that's moderate and modest and effective," added Rep. Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo.

The measure passed the House 133-0 on Wednesday. Senators already approved the measure, which is headed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk.

Projects demanded

Chairmen of the legislative public works funding committees on Wednesday demanded a list of projects Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants included in their bill.

Democrats Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon and Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul demanded a list immediately.

"We need that list today so that we can continue our discussions in conference committee and, hopefully, get a bill to you soon," they wrote in a letter to the GOP governor.

Pawlenty says the House and Senate public works bills are too pricey and threatens to veto projects if the Legislature's final product ends up costing more than he wants.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report.

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