Alcohol tax would fund treatment

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans would pay an additional dime per alcoholic drink if a proposal to fund treatment programs becomes law. Revenue collected from a 10-cent drink tax would be used to absorb government costs of prosecuting alcohol- or drug-rel...

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans would pay an additional dime per alcoholic drink if a proposal to fund treatment programs becomes law.

Revenue collected from a 10-cent drink tax would be used to absorb government costs of prosecuting alcohol- or drug-related crimes, providing addiction treatment and promoting anti-teen drinking programs.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said crimes such as drunken driving can cost government at least $6,000 each, but offenders typically pick up only one-third of the tab. Murphy is sponsoring alcohol tax legislation along with Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. Eighty percent of Minnesotans support raising the booze tax if the money goes to treatment and court services, supporters said.

Murphy, a recovering alcoholic, said more funding is needed to treat chronic drinkers and provide probation for repeat offenders.

"I know what it did to my family," Murphy said of addiction during a recent Capitol news conference. "It's a terrible thing."


Law enforcement officers welcome the proposal, Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said. In his city, officers spend a bulk of their evening dealing with people who are intoxicated or on drugs.

"That's huge," Ramsay said of time and money spent on those cases.

Help rural area

Gov. Tim Pawlenty says the rural economy will benefit from a new requirement for using renewable energy sources such as wind.

The bill he signed Thursday should give rural Minnesotans an economic development boost, he said, because wind turbines and other forms of renewable power generation will happen there.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, a psychologist who helped engineer a compromise between environmentalists and power companies, said: "We had much more in common than we had differences."

The Duluth DFLer called the law "the best policy that has ever been proposed in the United States."

The new law requires most Minnesota utilities to get at least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, but Xcel Energy must obtain 30 percent of its power from renewables.


Reducing bullying

More children are turning to the Internet to bully their peers, said supporters of a proposed state prohibition on cyber-bullying.

School districts already are required to have anti-bullying policies. One proposal legislators are considering would add cyber-bullying to the policy.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, a leading advocate of anti-bullying measures, told lawmakers that students assume they can get away with bullying if they use Internet sites and Web chat rooms.

"It's so derogatory it's hard to describe," Backstrom said of comments he's seen posted by youth.

Opponents say the bill is over-reaching and that districts can't track what happens outside the school building.

Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, tried to change the bill to require that schools record incidents of bullying and allow parents to file reports of suspected bullying. That effort failed during a recent Senate Education Committee hearing.

Mondale honored


The name of "one of Minnesota's favorite sons" could grace highway signs in Duluth under a legislative proposal headed for a Senate vote.

The Senate Transportation Budget Committee on Thursday approved a plan to name a stretch of Highway 53 the Walter F. Mondale Memorial Drive.

Mondale, a Democrat, is a former vice president, U.S. senator and ambassador to Japan. He ran for U.S. Senate again in 2002 in place of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died shortly before the election.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said dedicating the highway to "one of Minnesota's favorite sons is fitting and proper." The dedication is for the stretch between Superior Street and Central Entrance in Duluth.

Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson said the city would pay for roadside signs marking the designation.

Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, is carrying the bill in the House.

Big announcement

Next Wednesday is a key day for Minnesota lawmakers.


That is when they learn how much money they have to spend. State officials will report then how the state economy is going and how much money various revenue sources are expected to provide the state in coming years.

The budget forecast is used as lawmakers craft a two-year budget. Early indications are that the forecast will vary little from a similar one last November. That one showed a one-time $1 billion surplus, and another $1 billion that would be eaten up by inflation.

Pawlenty recommends a $34.4 billion budget.

Loan program dry

Farmers could experience a different kind of drought this year if a state program that helps provide farm loans runs out of money.

The Rural Finance Authority worked to provide more than $14 million in loans last year, but doesn't have funding to continue the program. A House proposal by Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, would set aside $50 million for the Rural Finance Authority through 2008.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, is pushing similar legislation in the Senate.

'Save lakes'


A measure calling on President Bush and Congress to take the reins on a Great Lakes matter passed a preliminary vote Thursday in the Senate.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, introduced the resolution, which calls for federal action to protect the Great Lakes from aquatic invasive species. The issue should be put to a final vote on the Senate floor in coming days, Sieben said.

State Capitol Bureau reporters Mike Longaecker and Don Davis contributed to this report. They and Scott Wente work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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