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Legislative Briefs: Bill allows family to care for dead

ST. PAUL -- Tears flowed as senators heard about a proposal allowing Minnesotans to take care of dead family members.

"I had cared for Gary throughout his illness," Heather Halen of Minneapolis told a Senate health committee Wednesday. "I wanted to be the one who cared for him after his death."

Halen said she placed her husband in a plain pine casket on her front porch and hosted a small memorial service in their home.

However, current law limited the home funeral to family and a few very close friends. She said she would have liked to invite more.

The bill, similar to one in the House, passed out of the committee Wednesday and may be in front of the full Senate soon.

"This bill will allow families to wash and care for the bodies," said Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who cried as she told about holding an overnight vigil with her mother-in-law's body.

The bill written by Pappas allows families to preserve a body with dry ice instead of embalming it.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, a former state epidemiologist, said bodies are not a health problem and dry ice should control odor.

The Minnesota Funeral Homes Associating opposed Pappas' bill.

"A public viewing can happen on a picnic table in a public park, leaving behind infectious materials," Cory Michaelson said.

Nuke study sought

Two studies of emissions from the Prairie Island nuclear power plant would be required under a bill moving through the Minnesota House.

JoDee Gamst, representing the Prairie Island Indian Community, on Wednesday told a House public health committee that health stakes are too high to leave the situation without adequate monitoring.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said those who live near the Red Wing-area plant are concerned that current monitoring is inadequate and her bill would establish two studies to determine the best system of monitors.

Xcel Energy and a special fund set up when concrete casks were first used to store waste nuclear matter would fund the study.

All nuclear waste produced by the two reactors is stored at the plant.

Clark told of concerns that hot water coming from the plant can hurt the ecosystem and radiation can affect people.

The Minnesota study committees would include a variety of representatives, including one from Pierce County, Wis.

Election tweaks pass

A series of election law tweaks inspired by the long and disputed 2008 U.S. Senate election continue to make progress through the Legislature.

Bills that tentatively passed the Senate Wednesday include provisions that speed the updating of voter records, as well as providing a way to postpone local elections due to bad weather. If the election is not connected to a state or federal vote, local authorities may delay it no later than 6 p.m. the night before polling places open, and then only if the National Weather Service issues a storm warning or travel advisory.

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