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Capitol Chatter: Ag. Dept. makes assistance available to western Minn. counties

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ST. PAUL -- The U.S. Agriculture Department has made most western Minnesota counties eligible for assistance due to several natural disasters that affected farmers this year.

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"The extreme weather in western Minnesota has caused severe damage to crops and taken a heavy toll on rural communities," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. "With these designations, farmers are eligible to access the permanent disaster program and emergency financing they need to get through this difficult period and continue their vital role in Minnesota's economy."

Farmers may receive emergency loans and other assistance from the Farm Service Agency.

Counties eligible for assistance are Big Stone, Chippewa, Grant, Lac Qui Parle, Redwood, Renville, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Traverse, Wright, Anoka, Benton, Brown, Carver, Cottonwood, Douglas, Hennepin, Kandiyohi, Le Sueur, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Morrison, Murray, Nicollet, Otter Tail, Pope, Scott, Sherburne, Swift, Todd, Wilkin and Yellow Medicine.

Another disaster declaration is in effect for Kittson, Marshall, Norman, Polk, Traverse and Wilkin counties because of severe early spring weather.

Shutdown, stadium eliminated normal summer and fall

Many around the Capitol don't quite understand why temperatures are dipping into the 30s: It can't be fall already.

With the July government shutdown and now the increasingly frantic stadium debate, this has been a strange and busy non-election year.

"This is the busiest I have ever been between sessions," Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

In what is supposed to be an off season, Urdahl has been in the Capitol two or three days a week, a time when lawmakers usually are hard to find under the dome.

Many legislators have been pulled into the debate about a new Vikings football stadium, whether they wanted to be or not.

For Urdahl, that is because as chairman of the House committee dealing with so called "legacy funds," he has been swamped with emails and other communications from people concerned that the stadium will siphon off money voters approved in 2008 for outdoors and arts projects.

"It is right up there," he said about the number of emails he has received, comparing it to controversial gay-marriage proposals. (By the way, he says, he has received the message, so the emails can stop now.)

Most Capitol attention has turned to the stadium.

While politicians blame the media for hyping the issue, that is the topic most politicians bring up, too.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday was supposed to attend a Capitol Preservation Commission hearing, but dropped that in favor a stadium meeting.

To put stadium interest in perspective, the number of journalists covering stadium issues rivals the numbers who covered the state shutdown.

Paying tribe

A bill that would pay Minnesota Chippewa American Indians for "federal misfeasance" in enacting an 1889 law is making its way through Congress.

Minnesota U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, and Chip Cravaack, a Republican, introduced what they call the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Judgment Fund Distribution Act of 2011. It would give the state's Chippewas $28 million as reimbursement for the federal government selling of Indian lands in the late 1800s.

Those affected are Boise Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth bands of Chippewa.

Cravaack said the money sits in an Interior Department trust fund and should be released now.

Each tribal member would get $300, with the six bands receiving the rest.

Illegal voting?

Two conservative groups supporting requiring Minnesota voters to display photographic identification says mentally incapacitated people have been allowed to vote.

Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Freedom Council released a report showing residents of central Minnesota group homes voted when they were not legally allowed to.

Freedom Council President Ron Kaus is a family friend of one of those who voted.

"It just makes my heart sick," Kaus said, "but getting to the bottom of this and finding a way to correct it keeps me going."

Senate candidate

Republican Anthony Hernandez of St. Paul is running for the U.S. Senate.

Hernandez, who ran in 2010, said he is seeking to defeat incumbent Amy Klobuchar after a 2006 traffic accident nearly killed him and cost him his job.

"I have learned from my life experiences that when life knocks you down, you dust yourself off and try again," he said. "This is exactly what American must do right now."

Pogemiller named

State Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, will be Office of Higher Education director, Gov. Mark Dayton announced.

That means at least three long-time and powerful senators are leaving.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, earlier said he would not seek re-election next year. He has been core to picking public works projects to fund for years.

The Senate's top health-care expert, Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, left the Senate for a Hennepin County job.

Pogemiller long has worked in education in the Senate, and Dayton said he will bring that information to his new job.

Hearings ordered

Minnesota House and Senate leaders plan to schedule hearings about why the state corrections commissioner paroled two men sentenced to life in prison.

One killed an Oakdale policeman, the other a teen believed to be a police informant.

Senate Majority Leader Any Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, both Republicans, delivered a letter to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton asking that he have Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy attend those hearings.

Flood help sought

Two Minnesota congressmen have introduced a bill to help flood-prone communities.

The bill by U.S. Reps. John Kline, a Republican, and Collin Peterson, a Democrat, would remove red tape related to emergency levees.

Now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires communities to remove emergency levees used to prevent flooding before the federal government will reimburse the communities for construction costs. The bill removes that requirement.

Also, the bill requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide if an emergency levee could be left up for future protection.

"FEMA's inflexible guidelines create bureaucratic boondoggles for communities in Minnesota and nationwide that face repeated flooding," Kline said. "My legislation provides constituents the flexibility to work with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect their communities from future flooding while saving taxpayer dollars."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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