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DFL legislators move 'alternate' tax bill

ST. PAUL - Democrats in control of the Minnesota Legislature pushed through a second tax bill Thursday night and handed over major tax and spending decisions to a hastily assembled committee that planned to meet into the night.

Republicans objected loudly to the changes, which came amid slow progress on negotiations over large tax and finance bills.

The alternative tax bill could raise at least $1 billion through tax increases and fund many of the major areas where agreements have yet to be reached - health and human services, public school education and higher education.

The bill, which surprised most observers, is part of the debate about closing a $4.6 billion state budget shortfall and bringing the legislative session to a close by its May 18 adjournment date.

House Taxes Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed $1 billion in new revenue, by borrowing funds, to help balance the state budget.

"We'll see what he thinks about us recognizing his $1 billion and raising it" through tax increases," Lenczewski said.

Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said there are "stark differences" between a House tax plan that raises $1.5 billion and a Senate bill that increases taxes by $2.2 billion.

"We're trying to create multiple avenues to get compromise and a solution," said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.

Negotiations continued on bills funding other budget areas, including agriculture, veterans, public safety and state government.

Republican Pawlenty has said he will not support tax increases and now Democrats are giving up on ongoing House-Senate negotiations in favor of the new tax bill, GOP lawmakers said.

"Why do we have to have all these little shenanigans?" GOP Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna asked.

Deadline nixed

Democrats and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty exchanged blame for missing a Thursday deadline to negotiate budget bills.

The House and Senate repealed a self-imposed midnight Thursday deadline to finish negotiating finance bills that fund a number of state budget areas.

The Legislature has sent three relatively small finance bills to Pawlenty, with the biggest spending bills yet to be resolved.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich said committee deadlines helped to speed up the legislative process, but the only deadline that matters is the Legislature's May 18 constitutional adjournment.

The Legislature is ahead of schedule, but some budget negotiations have been delayed at Pawlenty's request, Sertich said.

Pawlenty said he delayed a meeting about the public safety funding bill for one day so he could attend a flood-prevention meeting in Washington. Otherwise, he said, he has not sought any delays.

"It seems like a mismanagement of time," Pawlenty said about how legislators blew by their deadline.

Pawlenty said he fears a special session may be needed to finish budget work. "The risk of that happening is increasing by the hour."

Nuclear on ballot?

A Republican lawmaker said the Legislature has "dropped the ball" on nuclear energy expansion, so voters should decide whether that energy source is an option for Minnesota.

Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague proposes a constitutional amendment on the 2010 general election ballot asking voters whether state utility regulators should have authority to permit construction of a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear energy expansion has been prohibited by law for about 15 years. The state has nuclear power plants in Red Wing and Monticello.

The Senate voted last month to lift the nuclear moratorium, but the House voted to keep the ban in place.

"Because the Legislature has dropped the ball on this clean energy source and creating new jobs, this proposal would allow the people of Minnesota to decide whether or not they want more clean energy and good-paying jobs in this state," Brod said.

If Brod's proposal is not considered this year, it still could be debated during the 2010 legislative session.

Ticket deal banned

Lawmakers sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty a bill prohibiting event ticket brokers from diverting tickets to another seller charging a higher rate.

The legislation stems from Ticketmaster's handling of tickets for an upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert in St. Paul. Ticketmaster redirected customers to another business, which charged more for tickets.

"People should at least get a shot at buying tickets at face value," said bill sponsor Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights.

The House and Senate passed the bill by wide margins this week. It awaits Pawlenty's signature or veto. Coincidentally, Pawlenty is a Springsteen fan.

Web use limited

A plan to restrict high-risk sex offenders from accessing social networking Internet sites awaits Gov. Tim Pawlenty's signature.

The Legislature approved a public safety bill that prohibits high-risk offenders on intensive supervised release from using social networking Web sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, and Internet chat rooms.

The legislation also makes it illegal to use mobile phones and text messages to solicit children for sexual acts. Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said the provision expands laws against child solicitation.

Laser shining banned

Shining a hand-held laser at an airplane would be a felony under a bill lawmakers passed Thursday.

The House voted 129-3 for the proposal that makes it a felony to shine a laser into the cockpit of an airplane in flight. Proponents said that has caused emergency airplane landings in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Senators earlier approved the legislation 65-0.

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