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Legislative session issue recap: From budgets to booze, guns to gay marriage

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ST. PAUL -- Here are how some issues fared at the recently completed 2013 Minnesota Legislature:

Bonding: Gov. Mark Dayton and House Democrats wanted to borrow $750 million to $800 million for public works projects around the state, but Republicans and Senate Democrats favored something smaller. In the end, they agreed to spend $177 million, with $132 million to continue a state Capitol building renovation project. Also getting funds were sewage projects statewide, a Capitol-area parking ramp and a new Minneapolis Veterans' Home building.

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Budget: A $38 billion, two-year budget won approval in the final days of the Legislature, up from $35 billion in the current budget cycle.

Bullying: Efforts to establish an extensive anti-bullying law failed.

Capitol renovation: More than $200 million is needed to renovate the state Capitol building; lawmakers approved $132 million, expecting to come back next year and approve the rest. A new office building near the Capitol also received legislative approval.

Care attendants: Home-based child care providers and personal care attendants (who help the elderly and disabled) who receive state payments won the right to join unions. It was the most-debated bill.

Education: Public schools will receive $485 million more from the state in the next two years, including money to fund all-day kindergarten and day care scholarships for 3- and 4-year-olds. General state school aid also is increasing.

Elections: Fairly minor changes were made in the state's election laws, including allowing Minnesotans to get absentee ballots without giving a reason, expanding mail balloting, setting up a pilot project for electronic poll books and lowering the threshold for taxpayer-funded election recounts.

Gas tax: Efforts were made to increase the gasoline tax to fund transportation needs, but with the governor's opposition that never passed.

Gay marriage: Minnesota became the 12th state to allow same-sex marriages after a contentious debate and thousands of people packing the Capitol to make their voices heard.

Gun control: School and other shootings fanned a demand for gun control, but from early in this legislative session it was apparent that banning so-called assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines would go nowhere. In the end, little was done other than tweak background checks for some gun buyers.

Health care: The first big bill to become law makes Minnesota among a handful of states that operate a mostly Web-based marketplace where its residents can compare and buy health insurance policies. Also, $50 million was cut from state health programs for the poor and disabled.

Higher education: Tuition at state-run colleges and universities will be frozen for two years as $250 million was added to their budgets, the first significant increase in years. State financial aid programs also received more money.

Immigrants: Undocumented immigrants who attend Minnesota high schools at least three years and plan to become U.S. citizens will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at state-run colleges and universities. However, lawmakers did not take action on a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

Local aid: Cities of all sizes and parts of the state agreed to a new Local Government Aid formula that would make state aid more predictable and, supporters say, more fair. Some suburbs that now get no state payments will get aid under the plan. More state money also is on the way to counties and townships.

Mayo Clinic: The Rochester-based Mayo Clinic, with facilities across much of Minnesota, received about $400 million to help its home community improve infrastructure as the health organization undergoes a $3.5 billion expansion.

Medical marijuana: There was discussion, but no action, on allowing Minnesotans to use marijuana to ease pain.

Minimum wage: "Next year" is what supporters of a higher minimum wage say after the House and Senate could not agree on how much to raise the current $6.25-an-hour wage. The House and governor wanted it increased to more than $9, but the Senate approved a $7.75 level.

Nursing homes: Nursing homes will receive a 5 percent state aid increase, but other long-term care organizations will get just a fraction of that.

Recycling: Used paint will need to be recycled, but carpet will not.

Stadium funding: As the legislative session progressed, concern grew that electronic pulltab and bingo taxes would not raise enough money to pay the state's portion of a nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium. So lawmakers approved temporarily using money from a cigarette tax increase as a backup.

Sunday booze: Bills allowing Sunday alcohol sales came up dry.

Taxes, alcohol: There was discussion about taxing alcoholic drinks, but it did not pass.

Taxes, property: The tax bill provides $441 million in property tax relief. It comes in several ways, including providing local governments more state aid, which is supposed to result in lower property taxes. Property tax refunds also received a boost.

Taxes, sales: While the governor withdrew his plan to lower the sales tax rate but apply it to many more goods and services, the Senate succeeded in persuading the governor and House to agree to tax some business goods and services. New money from that tax is supposed to offset money lost by the state allowing local governments to buy items without paying sales tax.

Taxes, snowbirds: The governor wanted to force part-time Minnesota residents, who spend much of the year in the south, to pay Minnesota income taxes. It did not happen.

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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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