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First big bills set for debate in legislature

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators could pass some of the biggest bills yet this year on Monday, but budget work awaits more information from Washington.

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Senators expect to debate a $367 million public works bill Monday. The bill easily floated through two committee hearings, and is expected to find equally easy passage in the full Senate.

The House, however, continues to work on its equivalent measure, so no one knows when the measure - known as the bonding bill - will be sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for his signature.

The governor frequently has said he opposes borrowing money for public works projects unless they are needed to complete funding for items federal money would start.

Also on Monday, senators probably will debate a bill that Pawlenty helped launch that requires school districts to share services in an effort to save money.

While Senate Democrats have released their budget outline, Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, on Friday said it is doubtful major specific budget decisions will be made in the coming days because many questions remain about how $2 billion in federal funds may be spent.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said he expects the numbers to change until a budget finally is passed, in a large part because of unanswered federal questions.

The House is expected to announce, probably on Friday, its budget outline. But like in the Senate, committees will decide specific numbers.

Pawlenty also is expected to announce changes to his first budget proposal in about a week.

LGA fight continues

Greater Minnesota cities continue to take on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed local government aid cuts.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has enlisted a pair of moderate former lawmakers of different political parties to argue that cuts in aid - which generally will have less impact on suburban communities - is a matter of tax fairness. They say aid cuts equal higher property taxes, which hit many greater Minnesota cities hard.

"The property tax catch is this: If a city has lower valued homes, they have a lower property tax base and are forced to charge each homeowner a higher rate in order to gather enough money to pay for essential services, like police officers and firefighters," ex-Reps. Frank Moe of Bemidji and Dan Dorman of Albert Lea wrote in an editorial-page submission.

Dorman, a Republican, and Moe, a Democrat, said everyone agrees that Minnesotans are entitled to some basic services, such as police, fire protection, safe roads, libraries and parks. They claim Pawlenty's proposed cuts are so deep that all of those services are in danger.

Vets set to party

Minnesota veterans' organizations plan to gather June 13 for the largest-ever state Vietnam veteran event.

Vets, their families and other supporters are to meet on the state Capitol grounds, the state Veterans' Affairs Department has announced. A department statement says: "This event is designed to unite the Minnesota community in support, gratitude and celebration of the brave men and women who served during the Vietnam war era."

The free event is to feature speakers, music from the period and Vietnam memorabilia.

Library card charge

A Duluth legislator wants to allow libraries to charge patrons outside of their areas to use services.

Democratic Rep. Roger Reinert said he learned when he was a Duluth City Council member that library patrons who live outside the city used the libraries, even though they did not pay taxes to support them.

"Duluth taxpayers keep the lights on, our stacks up to date and the library staff employed," Reinert said. "But thousands of people living outside Duluth use those same services and don't pay for it. The library offers a valuable service, and everyone who uses that service has a responsibility to help maintain it."

So a Reinert bill would allow cities like Duluth to charge an annual fee for non-residents to use libraries.

Info released

Information about state employees that was not supposed to be public was unintentionally placed on a publicly accessible Web site.

Minnesota Management and Budget notified state employees of the unintended release of their home cities. However, specific addresses were not released, the department said.

Seniors warned

Minnesota officials warn the state's elderly population of a scheme to bilk grandparents during college spring break.

The Public Safety Department issued the warning as college students head out of the country for trips, a time when con artists sometimes try to bilk grandparents by pretending to be their grandchildren who are in trouble and need cash.

Sometimes a caller pretends to be a police officer or a friend calling asking for money, a call that usually includes a request that the matter be kept secret.

"Typically in the scam, the caller will say, 'Grandma, it's me, your grandchild,' and wait for the grandparent to answer, 'Jimmy, is that you?' a department news release said. "The scammer then claims they need funds wired immediately to cover a vehicle crash, an arrest, border taxes or medical needs. Stressing their embarrassment, the caller urges the grandparent not to inform their parents or friends."

Weatherization coming

The federal economic stimulus package provides $131 million to Minnesotans who need to weatherize their homes.

The program would provide thousands of families 32 percent savings on energy bills, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. Some public buildings also would receive energy upgrades.

"Rising energy costs are making it hard for Minnesotans to heat their homes in the winter," Klobuchar said. "These funds will help families save money, create jobs and businesses, and reduce energy consumption to make sure Minnesota families aren't left out in the cold. It is imperative that we give our families the help they need to keep pace with the sharp increase in heating costs."

Information on how to apply for the program is available at www.staywarm.mn.gov.

"The weatherization funding will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so I encourage families to take advantage of the program and contact their county-based community action agency or go to our website for more information," said Bill Glahn, the state Office of Energy Security director.

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