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Education bill heads to negotiations

ST. PAUL -- An education bill containing fewer reforms than sought by the Pawlenty administration heads to House-Senate negotiators.

The House voted 86-47 about midnight Tuesday for its education bill that contains no budget cuts, a rarity as the state faces a nearly $3 billion deficit.

"Even in the toughest of economic times, our children have only one chance to get a good education," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville. "This bill prioritizes education by keeping cuts out of the classroom and implementing reforms that will help narrow the achievement gap so every Minnesota student will be prepared for success when they graduate from high school."

The bill falls short of what Gov. Tim Pawlenty had sought as his Education Department considered applying for federal Race to the Top funds that could bring in $147 million. He wanted a strong bill giving a new path to teaching degrees for Minnesotans in other careers, as well as evaluating teachers and principals based on student performance.

Race to the Top funds are based in a large part on education reforms.

An effort to insert Pawlenty's mid-career teacher licensing provision failed 68-65 after nearly two hours of debate.

Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, said the failed proposal was "good, sound policy." But Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said that attracting new, young teachers is more important.

Redesign hoped

The Minnesota Legislature is working to establish a commission to coordinate government redesign and spend money more efficiently.

Legislators, state government officials, an administrative judge and representatives from universities, nonprofits and chambers of commerce would sit on the Minnesota Innovation and Research Council.

"I firmly believe this council is going to be a key player ... as we look at balancing the budget," said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. "This is just absolutely vital to being able to address our problems next year."

Under the House version of the bill, the council would have $50,000, contingent on getting the same amount the private sector,

Marquart said the council proposal has a rough go to meet the deadline for passing bills Sunday night, but added that the bill already has passed through several committees in the last week and has the backing of leadership.

"It's going to be a push, no doubt," he said.

The timing is important because of the ongoing budget deficits. If it passes this year the group can "hit the ground running" and have a plan in place by Jan. 15.

"I see this council as a springboard ... to maintain the greatness of the state of Minnesota."

Same sex veto

Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he will veto a bill that would give same-sex couples the same rights to honor the final wishes of their partners as married couples already have.

Pawlenty said the bill is just an attempt to work a "domestic partners" definition into state law. He said a Minnesotan already may designate anyone to handle funeral and other matters.

However, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said that Pawlenty is wrong. She said there are many cases where gay partners are barred from taking care of their loved ones after death. Also, gay partners cannot sue for a wrongful death, she added.

"I just thought it was a case of fairness," Solon said, so she did not seek Pawlenty's backing when she worked on the bill. "I'm wondering if he is missing the point."

Tellijohn and Davis report for Forum Communications Co.