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Pawlenty signs ag, vets bill

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ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the first major budget bill of the 2007 Legislature into law Friday, approving $170 million for agriculture and veterans initiatives.

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Surrounded by lawmakers and military personnel, Pawlenty signed the compromise funding bill ushered through the Legislature by Democrats Sen. Jim Vickerman of Tracy and Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar.

The Republican governor emphasized provisions to assist Minnesota soldiers returning from overseas and to increase veterans' services offices.

The bill also allows for more veterans' assistance on Minnesota tribal land. Juhnke said that is important given American Indians' higher rate of military enrollment.

Leading the agriculture measures is creation of a Next Generation Energy Board to consider how the state should invest in renewable energy initiatives.

Pawlenty vetoed two relatively small agriculture provisions. One would have spent $1 million to give loans for equipment to farmers raising perennial crops. Pawlenty said the program has merit, but is premature because it's not yet clear what crops will provide the next generation of biofuels.

Also, Pawlenty removed $350,000 in prairie plant research funds because similar appropriations are in other spending bills, he said.

Outdoors bill passes

A $446 million bill funding energy, natural resources and Commerce Department programs receiving legislative passage Friday night includes a provision requiring off-highway vehicles to remain on mapped state forest trails.

Among items in the bill, a compromise between versions already passed by the House and Senate, was a prohibition from allowing state land in Hubbard, Cass and Crow Wing counties being used for four-wheel-drive truck trails.

While the Senate passed the bill 64-1 and the House backed it 97-30, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he will exercise his line-item veto authority on parts of it.

Much of the bill's emphasis goes to cleaning up the state's water. Nearly $50 million would be spent for that. It also provides help to add pollution control devices to school buses.

Nearly $21 million would go to various forestry initiatives and $26 million is designated for energy-related programs, such as promoting wind energy.

Jobs bill OK'd

Housing programs would receive millions more dollars and workers would get better protection under an economic development bill lawmakers passed Friday.

However, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he plans to veto the bill because it spends more than $50 million above his budget target and includes numerous objectionable polices.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said the only way to get true negotiations with the governor's office is to send it to him for a veto.

Senators passed the compromise bill 44-22, with the House giving it an 84-44 nod. The House and Senate earlier passed their own variations of the bill and a conference committee provided the compromise version.

Youth programs would get more than $10 million and $2 million in new money would be spent for marketing Minnesota tourism.

Nearly $35 million would be spent on programs to provide affordable housing.

Also, the bill increases Minnesota Arts Board and Minnesota Humanities Commission funding 48 percent.

Minnesotans with digestive ailments requiring immediate restroom access would be allowed to use private business facilities under the bill.

Flood aid waiting

Browns Valley will have to wait a few more days before knowing if it will get state flood aid.

The House and Senate both approved relief for the western Minnesota community, but the House also included help for Rogers and Warroad to recover from 2006 tornadoes.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to work out a compromise bill next week. Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said he thinks Gov. Tim Pawlenty will find $600,000 for Rogers. Warroad's request already is in another bill.

E-bullying opposed

All Minnesota school districts would be required to include cyber-bullying as part of their anti-bullying policies under a bill passed Friday in the House.

The measure, which senators passed earlier, applies to bullying carried out by instant messages, e-mail or fake Internet profiles. The governor's office says Gov. Tim Pawlenty will sign the bill.

Veto bait

Gov. Tim Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor likely will veto a massive health and human services budget proposal lawmakers still were crafting Friday.

There are many reasons to reject the bill, including that it spends $275 million more than Pawlenty wants, McClung said.

2nd try works

Minnesota legislators took a second look at a $2 billion public safety bill Friday, and gave it their approval.

The House voted 124-6 and the Senate 65-0 in favor of the measure after a deal among legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty removed a provision that would have allowed consumers to more easily sue their insurance companies. Pawlenty said he will sign the bill that funds some law enforcement agencies and the state judiciary.

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Local provisions in the economic development bill include:

-- $300,000 for a Worthington bioscience training and testing center.

-- $325,000 for the Walker Area Community Center.

-- $31.35 million for the 21st Century Mineral Fund, which is used for economic development on the Iron Range.

-- $500,000 to help the Upper Sioux Indian Community improve its water system.

-- $75,000 to improve a Chisholm baseball field.

-- A requirement to have at least one Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector to be based in Bemidji and two in the Iron Range.

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The environment bill includes:

-- $400,000 for building ring dikes along the Red River.

State Capitol Bureau reporters Scott Wente and Mike Longaecker contributed to this story.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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