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Minnesota Senate: Whistleblower law could be extended

ST. PAUL -- State workers should be allowed to tell legislators their opinions about Minnesota finances and other issues without fear of retribution in their jobs, senators decided Thursday.

On a 46-10 vote, senators tentatively approved an extension to the state whistleblowers' law, giving most state workers permission not only to talk to legislators, but also to the Legislative Auditor's Office and statewide officials such as the governor and attorney general.

"It ensures that no state employee ... has to be in fear of losing their job just because of giving honest information," said the bill's author, Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

She added that "I have had state employees send me information in brown manila envelopes" in an attempt to not be identified, out of fear for their jobs.

But Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that the Legislature should not tell executive branch agencies what their employees can do. He said employees should be expected to follow agency policies, and the Olson bill might send a message that employees do not have to obey their bosses.

Olson said some agencies have written policies forbidding employees from sharing information with legislators.

Drug disposal OK'd

The House approved a measure encouraging counties to accept unused prescription drugs.

It also explains the proper procedure for getting rid of the medicines.

"All too often unused prescription drugs end up in the wrong place or the wrong hands," Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, said. "This common-sense legislation aims to keep prescription drugs out of our lakes and streams and away from teenagers or young adults who may abuse the drugs."

There is a particular concern about flushing drugs down toilets, which pollutes water.

Easier transfers

Representatives Thursday passed a measure telling the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to do a better job of transferring credits among institutions.

A day earlier, senators approved a similar bill, but one with more mandates on MnSCU.

The House bill author, Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud, said his proposal "asks them for a little teamwork."

More than 90 percent of MnSCU credits already transfer, but a recent Legislative Auditor's Office report said that is not good enough.

One park

Once Vermilion State Park opens it would be managed with the next-door Soudan Underground Mine State Park as if the two were one park under bills in the Legislature.

Senators tentatively passed their bill on a voice vote Thursday.

The bill also increases state payments to St. Louis County by $90 million as compensation for removing the land from property taxes.

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