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Coach checks approved

ST. PAUL - Minnesota representatives voted 118-11 to require school coaches to undergo criminal background checks. It would apply to those who coach sports and other extracurricular activities.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota representatives voted 118-11 to require school coaches to undergo criminal background checks. It would apply to those who coach sports and other extracurricular activities.

The Senate previously passed similar legislation, but a conference committee is needed to reconcile the two bills.

House sponsor Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said on Tuesday that the proposal would provide a consistent policy across the state. She cited recent news reports of alleged inappropriate behavior between high school coaches and students.

"If this prevents one incident, then this law has been successful," Bigham said.

Opponents said while they are concerned about children's well-being, the law imposes another state mandate on local school districts and will deter people from stepping forward to coach because of a $40 fee on background checks.

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Also Tuesday, Senators preliminarily approved a bill requiring a new check before a school can hire a teacher.

Under Sen. Kathy Saltzman's bill, those hiring teachers must check the Educator Licensing Division Web site to see if it has taken disciplinary action against the applicant. The Woodbury Democrat's bill also requires teaching applicants to provide information about discipline he or she has received on sexual misconduct matters.

No tax action

The Legislature this year will not revoke gasoline tax payments to snowmobile, boat, all-terrain vehicle and other off-road vehicle uses, Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, said.

Jaros said he hopes lawmakers hold hearings on the issue before next year's legislative session. He said he does not think the state gasoline tax should be used to support recreational vehicle activities.

However, groups supporting recreational vehicles oppose losing the money and have urged their members to attend any hearing on the Jaros bill.

Easing annexation

The House took a step toward less contentious annexations.

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On a unanimous vote, representatives approved a measure by Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, to encourage agreements for orderly annexation, consolidations and mergers of towns and municipalities. In the past, township officials, especially, have complained that cities annex their territory over their objections.

Music to fans' ears

Music fans no longer would have to wonder if the group they hear in concert is the one they meant to hear, senators decided.

The Truth in Music Advertising Act requires a musical group to be the group that it claims to be. Many groups "are essentially committing identify theft," Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said.

Some groups hold concerts under the names of other, more famous, groups and supporters of the Sparks bill say that misleads the public.

Gas tax increases

The state gasoline tax increased Tuesday, from 20 cents a gallon to 22 cents per gallon.

The bump up is the result of a transportation funding package the Legislature put into law earlier this session by overriding Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto.

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The law includes a nickel-per-gallon gas tax hike this year, but also calls for a gradual increase beyond a nickel to pay for state borrowing for transportation projects.

In all, the state gas tax will rise to 28.5 cents a gallon, at most, after several years. On Oct. 1, it will increase to 25.5 cents a gallon.

State gas tax revenue is constitutionally dedicated to transportation projects.

More memorial spending

County boards should be able to spend more money on Memorial Day activities, senators voted.

Boards now are limited to spending $2,000 on such ceremonies. But Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, convinced fellow senators to up that limit to $3,400.

Don Davis and Scott Wente work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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