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Legislative update, week 7: Lawmakers dig into frac sand; Gun debate comes to Senate

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The Minnesota Legislature this week plans to dig into some of the gritty issues associated with the fast-evolving and sometimes controversial frac sand industry.

Local lawmakers have been struggling to regulate the growing industry, and rules vary around the state. Now some local officials would like the state to set some streamlined regulations, or at least some best-practice guidelines, MPR reports.

The sand is used in the process of hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, to pull oil and natural gas from the ground. But local officials and other watchdogs are concerned about the fast-growing industry's effect on human health and the environment.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Energy and House Committee on Energy Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday for testimony on the frac sand mining industry.

In other news, more potentially explosive testimony is expected in the Minnesota Legislature this week on gun control.

Three days of hearings in the House on the issue brought passionate debate to the Capitol earlier this month. Lawmakers considered a broad array of proposals, including a ban on assault weapons. This week, debate lands in the Senate.

The pro-gun lobby group National Rifle Association is urging Minnesotans to pack Capitol hearing rooms again, noting that the Judiciary Committee is likely to take up the issue at noon Thursday. The panel may also meet from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday and from 12-6 p.m. on Friday.

The NRA says, "Lawmakers should not consider and pass failed anti-gun policies that would do nothing to address existing crime. They should focus on issues that would empower the law-abiding public to protect themselves and loved ones from violent and insane criminals."

Last week

Here's a roundup of action from last week in the Minnesota Legislature:

Gay marriage

More than 1,000 advocates of legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota rallied at the Capitol on Valentine's Day. This week, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is expected to introduce a bill that would legalize gay marriage in the state. Minnesota for Marriage, the leading group opposing gay marriage, is planning a rally March 7.

Medicaid expansion

The federal Medicaid program, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance, would add 35,000 low-income Minnesotans to its health-care coverage, according to legislation that has now been approved by both chambers in the Legislature. Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the measure.

State employee raises

Both chambers have also approved a 2 percent wage increase for state employees, to be paid retroactively from Jan. 2. Agencies would absorb the $76.2 million increased cost in their budgets for 2013.

Budget Plan C

Dayton in his State of the State address earlier this month unveiled his budget proposal, which he called Plan A, and he noted that budget gimmicks used in the last decade (Plan B) were unacceptable. He invited lawmakers to come up with their own Plan C proposal. Now lawmakers in both parties are doing just that, MinnPost reports.

Red-light cameras

A bill introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate last week would bring back automated stop-light enforcement cameras to catch red-light runners. Minneapolis used the cameras in 2005 and 2006, but the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down use of the devices after it ruled that a photo of a license plate alone does not prove the owner of the car was behind the wheel. Lawmakers are mulling tweaks to make the cameras more palatable to courts.

Snowbird tax

Sunny states don't seem to like Dayton's new "snowbird tax" proposal that would tax part-time residents of Minnesota who spend at least six months and a day in warmer states that have no income tax. An Orange County (Calif.) Register editorial says the plan will never fly. An accountant who works for Minnesota snowbirds says they are upset about the proposal because they already pay Minnesota property taxes, KSTP reports.

Sales tax on clothes

Meanwhile, retailers are hoping lawmakers will reject Dayton's proposal to tax the purchase of clothing items priced at $100 or more. The Star Tribune visited the Mall of America and examined the effect the sales tax might have on stores, and the state.

Child abuse lawsuits

The Minnesota Child Victims Act introduced last week would eliminate the requirement that abuse victims file civil suits within six years of becoming an adult, MPR reported. (The legislation would not affect the statute of limitations in criminal cases.) Advocates of the legislation say it can take years for children who have been sexually abused to pursue justice, because it takes so long to overcome the shame and secrecy.

Puppy mills

A House committee approved a bill last week that would require the state to license dog breeders. The legislation is aimed at cracking down on puppy mills that often produce sick, starving and dirty animals, Forum Communications reports.

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