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Legislative update, week 8: frac sand proposals, cigarette tax

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Minnesota state lawmakers heard testimony last week from dozens of people who testified as part of a complex debate about whether the state should regulate the fast-growing frac sand mining industry.

This week, lawmakers will dig into the gritty details and begin mulling specific proposals, MinnPost reports. One lawmaker, Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is proposing a broad bill that aims to regulate the industry and would launch research into the impact of silica sand mining on water resources, and air and water quality, MPR reported.

Industry officials say their operations are good neighbors to local communities and that they provide jobs, in addition to a much-needed service to booming oil and natural gas operations. Those operations need the sand for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process for extracting oil and gas from deep underground.

But critics worry about the health and environmental effects of the mining operations.

Also coming this week:

The Senate Tax Reform panel on Friday is scheduled to consider a measure that would raise the state cigarette tax. A House committee earlier this month considered legislation that would raise the cigarette tax $1.60 per pack. Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a 94-cent per-pack hike.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday is scheduled to get an overview on the health insurance exchange bill, which continues its march through the Legislature.

Committees in the House and Senate are scheduled to hear testimony on a proposal to raise the minimum wage. A Senate bill would hike the standard for large employers from $6.15 an hour to $7.50. A House bill would raise the minimum wage for large employers to $8.35 an hour this year, $9.45 next year and $10.55 an hour in 2015, MPR reports.

The House Education Finance Committee on Friday is set to consider a proposal to more fully fund all-day kindergarten.

Last week

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

Gun week 2

After a House debate on gun control earlier this month, a Senate committee considered several measures, although not the most controversial ones: an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Wolf hunt

A group of DFL and Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban wolf hunting in the state for five years, MPR reported. Minnesota allowed its first-ever managed wolf hunt last year, but critics said the hunt was allowed too soon after the animal was removed from federal protection.

Red-light cameras

In the face of some police opposition, a plan to revive use of red-light cameras in the state hit a speed bump. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, pulled her bill from consideration before a House committee could kill it altogether, the Star Tribune reported.

Early voting

DFL lawmakers are pressing a bill that would expand voting access, in one case by allowing people to cast a ballot in person beginning 15 days before an election. But some Republican lawmakers have concerns, MinnPost reports.

Solar power

Supporters of two bills introduced last week say Minnesota should require its state utilities to produce 10 percent of the state's electricity through solar energy by 2030, the Pioneer Press reports.

Sales tax for transit

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's call to impose a 0.25 percent sales tax that would be used to pay for transit projects in the seven-county metro got mixed reviews from local leaders last week, the Pioneer Press reported.

Capitol renovation

The painstaking process of repairing the exterior stone on the Minnesota State Capitol began last week, the Associated Press reports. Crews will begin installing scaffolding to make repairs to the deteriorating marble facade. The three-phase project is expected to be done by 2015, the AP says.

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