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Pawlenty, lawmakers agree on cancer research funding

ST PAUL - Iron Range lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have reached a compromise to fund a miners' cancer deaths study. Pawlenty could sign a bill next week appropriating $4.9 million so the University of Minnesota can study why 58 people connected...

ST PAUL - Iron Range lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have reached a compromise to fund a miners' cancer deaths study.

Pawlenty could sign a bill next week appropriating $4.9 million so the University of Minnesota can study why 58 people connected to Iron Range mines have died of mesothelioma.

The compromise allows the state to use a different fund than originally proposed, a fund acceptable to Pawlenty.

"Gov. Pawlenty believes it's very important that this study moves forward and is pleased we were able to reach a compromise on an acceptable funding source," said his spokesman, Brian McClung. "Utilizing $4.9 million from the assigned risk plan ensures the study is funded in a way that will not increase costs on employers, which was our concern about the previous version that would've tapped the workers' compensation fund."

Republicans said the original plan would have increased workers' compensation premiums that businesses pay.

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Senators on Thursday preliminarily approved, on a voice vote, a bill approving the study. The measure includes the new funding source, making it different than a bill representatives passed 88-45 a week earlier, and forcing the House to take a second vote on the revised plan.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, urged senators to pass the bill "so our miners can go to work in a safe environment." Tomassoni said the mysterious cancer may take 30 years to appear.

The measure will return to the House next week, where Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, expects it to receive prompt approval.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, questioned the need for an extensive study.

"There is a lot of information out there about mesothelioma," she said. "It has been around forever."

Her father died of the disease.

Preliminary work already has started on the study, funded by $250,000 from Iron Range Resources, a state agency.

Bovine aid passes

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The House unanimously approved a bill aiding cattle farmers in an area of northwestern Minnesota where cattle are infected with bovine tuberculosis.

The bill establishes a zone in the area where 11 cattle herds have been affected by TB.

It also authorizes a $500-per-animal state payment for cattle within that zone. Cattle would be slaughtered later this year to prevent the disease from spreading and no cattle will be allowed on that land until approved by the state.

Improved fences to keep cattle away from deer or elk, which carry TB, also are funded.

The bill spends about $6 million.

A recent federal decision makes it difficult for Minnesota cattle producers anywhere in the state to move cattle out of state because of the disease.

"It is not a good place for the state of Minnesota to be sitting," said Rep. Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls, who sponsored the bill. "You need authority to take your cattle across state lines."

"This is a crisis if we have ever seen one here in the state," added Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton. "We cannot wait any longer."

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The Senate also is considering the bill.

Cuba resolution

Under the watchful eye of Minnesota Twins baseball great and Cuba native Tony Oliva, the Minnesota House approved a resolution asking the federal government to end a trade ban with Cuba.

However, despite the overwhelming 86-9 favorable vote, many Republicans refused to vote as a protest of Cuba's human rights history.

Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, said others have worse human rights violations. "I find China much more of a threat than Cuba and we seem to have an open relationship with them."

The bill asks the federal government to end the 40-year-old trade embargo, which in 2000 was amended to allow limited sale of food, medical supplies and medicine. Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said Minnesota sold $20 million worth of those items to Cuba last year.

Juhnke, who recently visited Cuba as part of a state trade mission, said lifting the trade restrictions would help the Cuban people.

Ag bill passes

Senators Thursday preliminarily approved a bill that includes a requirement to increase biodiesel use.

The bill, a mixture of agriculture-related issues, would require 20 percent of diesel fuel to be plant-based biodiesel by 2015. Current law requires 2 percent of diesel fuel to be biodiesel, now primarily made from soybeans.

The bill also:

-- Provides $500,000 for livestock farmer grants to improve or build facilities.

-- Sets stricter rules for anhydrous ammonia tanks.

-- Establishes an animal chiropractor license.

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

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