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Bonding deal due

ST. PAUL - Today is supposed to be the day when House and Senate negotiators approve a public works funding bill and send it to the full House and Senate for approval.

ST. PAUL - Today is supposed to be the day when House and Senate negotiators approve a public works funding bill and send it to the full House and Senate for approval.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, on Monday said everything is ready in the bill other than how much to spend - if anything - on buying land for a new state park along Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota. That can be funded in a variety of ways later in the legislative session, said Langseth, chairman of the Senate committee that determines what public works projects get funded.

The bill would spend $925 million, mostly funded by the state selling bonds. Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he cannot accept that amount and in recent days has dropped hints he may veto some projects to reduce the spending. He earlier threatened to veto the entire bill if it came in too expensive.

Pawlenty, who was out of state Monday, has said he wants the bill limited to $825 million because the state is facing some budget problems. Because of that, he said, he does not want community centers, hockey rinks and similar projects funded this year.

The House and Senate could vote on the bill as early as Wednesday.

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Sviggum advances

A Republican known as a fierce partisan when in the House earned praise from Senate Democrats Monday, giving every indication full Senate approval is likely as Gov. Tim Pawlenty's labor and industry commissioner.

"I'm one who is personally satisfied with the job you have done," Senate President James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, told Steve Sviggum.

The former House speaker, a Kenyon Republican, earned voice vote approval by Metzen's Business, Industry and Jobs Committee.

"There were some people going in afraid that there could be some partisanship," Metzen told Sviggum.

"I can tell you what I have seen is you have become a very good regulator."

Sviggum, a long-time House member, said his commissioner post gave him "an opportunity to have a new beginning in public service."

He said that in his seven months as interim commissioner he has reached out to those affected by his department to find out what is needed.

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The department regulates workers' compensation, safety and minimum wage laws, among others.

Health reform

A health-care reform proposal passed the Senate over some opposition.

Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, complained that a fee placed on health insurers and hospitals will hurt rural Minnesotans especially hard.

It passed 39-23 on Monday after a preliminary vote last week.

Among other things, the bill creates a statewide health improvement plan providing grants to local communities to curb obesity and tobacco use. It also encourages physicians and nurses to work closely with people with chronic diseases and expands eligibility for state-subsidized health insurance programs.

Greenhouse plan

Senators preliminarily approved, on a voice vote, a procedure to annually look at ways to reduce greenhouse gases.

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The bill by Rep. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, requires state officials to regularly to tell lawmakers progress being made reduce greenhouse gases and their suggestions for new laws to help speed that progress. It also requires state officials to look at other states' efforts.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that if greenhouse gas reduction is the goal, state law should be changed to allow nuclear power plant construction because they do not produce greenhouse gases that may damage the ozone layer. However, no one tried to amend Prettner Solon's bill.

Health chief

A legislative committee praised Gov. Tim Pawlenty's new health commissioner Monday, making Dr. Sanne Magnan's chances at final confirmation by the Democrat-controlled Senate favorable.

The Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee approved Magnan's appointment. Linda Berglin, a top senator on health care and frequent Pawlenty adversary on health-care issues, enthusiastically backed Magnan.

"Her experience, her background, her knowledge in a variety of areas is very timely in terms of the kinds of things we need to do moving forward as a state," said Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis.

Pawlenty appointed Magnan Department of Health commissioner last year. She replaced Dianne Mandernach, who resigned amid criticism she delayed the release of information about the deaths of Iron Range mine workers who suffered from a rare lung cancer called mesothelioma.

Small business help

A bill moving through the House would require health insurers to tell their small business clients about low-cost health care plans that are available.

"By passing this bill, we can make small employers aware of more affordable health care coverage options available for their employees," Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, said. "In doing so, we can help save small businesses money while ensuring that those who are eligible for health insurance, receive it."

Dittrich said many health care companies offer less expensive plans for small businesses, but all employers know they exist.

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

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