Budget deadlines looming

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House soon may know how much money is available for its budget committees to spend. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, on Friday said the so-called budget targets could come in the next few days. Senate DF...

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House soon may know how much money is available for its budget committees to spend.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, on Friday said the so-called budget targets could come in the next few days. Senate DFL leaders released their targets Thursday.

The targets divide up available revenue among categories such as education, health and human services, higher education and transportation.

The Legislature faces deadlines in coming weeks, so work is speeding up in the Capitol. Senators have until April 2 to pass all budget bills. House budget committees must be done with their bills on that date, but final passage by the full House can come later.

However, another deadline requires House committees to wrap up work on policy bills by March 23. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said that means the next week will be packed with policy bill debate in committees, with less focus on the budget.


In the Senate, meanwhile, some budget committees will be close to wrapping up their bills.

There may be few, if any, major bills debated by the full House and Senate in coming days because committees need time to finish their work.

The Legislature must adjourn by May 21, and legislative leaders expect the pace to continually ramp up as that date approaches.

Veteran questions

Lawmakers grilled officials from the troubled Minneapolis Veterans' Home during a Friday hearing.

Charles Cox, interim executive director of the home, and Minnesota Veterans Home Board Chairman Jeff Johnson updated Senate Health Care Committee members after reports that three neglected veterans died there last year.

Sen. Tony Lourey expressed frustration that veterans' home officials were before legislators in January and didn't mention a resident's death just days earlier. An incomplete investigation wasn't reason to keep information from senators, he said.

"The end result was death and you did know that," Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said.


Legislators must receive timely information about the facility, and that didn't happen, Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, said.

"We have to have some communication and faith in the administration if we're going to be able to help you," said Olson, herself a veteran.

Some legislators said they don't believe operations have improved in recent weeks.

"You gentlemen have failed," said Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, who leads a Senate veterans' funding committee, said he wants more answers from Minneapolis Veterans' Home officials and might call them before his own committee in the coming weeks.

"That is going to get straightened out," Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, insisted.

Book costs targeted

College textbook costs have risen significantly in recent years, said students and legislators who want to curb book prices.


A recent proposal calls on publishers to limit textbook revisions and produce books as inexpensively as possible. Supporters are still working to include penalties for violating such a law.

Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said textbook publishers are printing revised books more often than the subject matter changes.

"This is the hidden cost to higher education," said Moe, an instructor at Bemidji State University.

Textbook cost increases are twice the rate of inflation, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, added.

"We need to do something," he said.

Piercing bill approved

A bill that toughens laws governing body piercing on Thursday received preliminary Senate support.

The provider of piercing services would have to witness a parent or guardian signing a waiver for a juvenile, according to the legislation. The bill, authored by Sen. Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris, awaits the movement of companion House legislation.


A final Senate vote probably will come Monday.

E-waste restricted

Four Senate committees have approved a bill requiring electrics manufacturers to foot the recycling costs for their products.

A similar bill, written by Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, has passed one House committee.

Electronic waste is the fastest-growing form of consumer waste and many components contaminate the ground and water supply.

Minnesota banned throwing television and computer monitors in landfills last year, but the state did not fund recycling efforts. The new proposal by Sailer and Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, encourages manufacturers to establish recycling programs and include the cost in the sales prices of their products.

"A lot of Minnesotans have old televisions and computer monitors just sitting in their basements," Higgins said. "Too often, these old electronics end up being dumped illegally on roadsides or public property. This bill will make it easier for consumers to responsibly dispose of old electronics."

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

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