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Capitol Notebook: Two bright spots in otherwise nasty political time

ST. PAUL -- This year will go down as one of the most contentious in Minnesota government history, so exceptions to that attitude are notable.

The first exception started out as yet another controversy.

Several days ago, news reports indicated that the state had stopped paying for military honor guards at veterans' funerals. The funding cut apparently slipped by all the top officials as political leaders this spring and summer debated a $34 billion, two-year budget.

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, was one of those incensed, but also was involved with the change since he is chairman of the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee.

Parry, not afraid of speaking his mind, blamed the Dayton administration.

"In putting together our final budget, our committee heard testimony from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the honor guard program was listed in the programs and services of the governor's budget," Parry said. "This session an earmark was not specifically requested, and although we appropriated the full amount of the governor's request, I was shocked to learn of reports that this program would not continue."

After the honor guard lapse came to light, Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito promised to find funds to continue the service. On Friday, Parry announced he has written a bill that would give Shellito's office a new avenue to fund the program, which gives $50 to honor guards.

Shellito and his boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, immediately praised Parry.

"I commend Sen. Parry for his leadership in restoring this important funding, and will do whatever I can to support it in next year's session," Dayton said.

The Dayton-Parry kumbaya came a day after law enforcement leaders and prosecutors praised legislators' efforts led by Rep. John Kriesel and Sen. Katie Sieben, both of Cottage Grove, to make synthetic drugs illegal.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, a two-time governor hopeful and former legislator, spoke for others at a panel discussion called by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar when he said that this year's Legislature may have been dysfunctional when it came to the budget but it did well when it came to outlawing the new wave of dangerous drugs.

Bridge too far?

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's effort to build a new St. Croix River bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin may come back to bite her as a presidential candidate.

The Hill newspaper, which covers Congress, reported that the Minnesota Republican's push could be a target in the GOP presidential contest because some consider it wasteful spending. Even U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., says that about the proposed four-lane bridge that would replace an aging and ailing lift bridge at Stillwater.

"Some critics mutter Bachmann's plan is akin to the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, the $400-billion proposed bridge that former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) tried to build to Gravina Island, a small community off Alaska's cost," The Hill reported in August. "Government-waste watchdogs are crying hypocrisy because Bachmann positioned herself as a leading critic of federal spending who voted against legislation to raise the debt limit earlier this month."

The bridge and related work could cost up to $690 million. It would connect Wisconsin's fastest-growing area to the Twin Cities.

Easier voting

Minnesota's cities, townships and counties may apply for a chunk of $400,000 available to make voting more accessible.

Funds only may be used to make polling places more accessible for the disabled.

Local governments must apply for the funds to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office.

Senior help

The Dayton administration has launched what it calls a one-stop shop for serving the state's senior citizens.

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon announced Senior LinkAge Line, which provides health and other government-related information to seniors as well as connects them with volunteering and job opportunities.

"Throughout the campaign, Gov. Dayton and I heard a need from seniors and their families for a better way to navigate government and have their questions answered," Prettner Solon said, "With this service; we are making the Senior LinkAge line a true one-stop shop."

Senior LinkAge has been in place for health insurance information, but Prettner Solon's announcement dramatically increases the scope of the line.

LinkAge is available at 1-800-333-2433.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.