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Legislative update, week 10: Budget do-over, gay marriage hearings

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Call it a do-over. Gov. Mark Dayton this week is expected to unveil a revised budget proposal now that a new forecast says the state's projected budget deficit has shrunk to $627 million from $1.1 billion.

Dayton had used the larger figure to craft an ambitious budget proposal full of sweeping new tax proposals. So now he's scaling back.

Dayton last week said he was taking several of his most controversial proposals off the table, including a plan to tax the services that businesses charge each other for things like legal counsel and accounting. That will likely affect some of his other goals. For instance, Dayton signalled that without new sales taxes, he likely wouldn't be able to offer a $500 property tax rebate that he wanted to give homeowners.

After Dayton releases his newly revised plan, lawmakers will enter a kind of second act of budget negotiations. The debate likely will stretch into May.

“I said from the outset, mine is the first word in this discussion,” Dayton said, the Star Tribune reported. “I never thought my proposal was going to pass through the legislative process and become law, as initially proposed. It was to launch a discussion.”

In other action this week, a bill that would legalize gay marriage in Minnesota will get its first legislative hearings Tuesday in the House Civil Law Committee and in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation appears to have support enough to pass the House panel, and possibly the Senate panel, the Pioneer Press reported. Full House and Senate votes would be the next hurdle for the bill, which would probably not come for a few weeks, the newspaper reported. Lobbyists on both sides are trying to rally lawmakers to their side.

Last week

Here's a quick roundup of legislative action from last week:

Health insurance exchange

Both the full House and Senate approved a fast-moving measure that would establish an online marketplace that more than an estimated 1 million Minnesotans, including roughly 300,000 uninsured, would use to purchase health insurance. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, allows states to set up their own health insurance exchanges if they choose to – but Minnesota has to finalize its program by the end of March, or the feds will manage it from Washington.

Gun compromise

A new gun bill introduced last week has the support of a majority of Minnesota House members and the National Rifle Association. Supporters call it a compromise measure and say it's the only gun bill with enough support for approval at the Legislature. But advocates of stricter controls on guns complain that the bill does little, with one telling Fox 9 it's a cop out. It would not require universal background checks for gun buyers, and it would not ban assault weapons.

Liquor tax

The University of Minnesota has some concerns over expanding alcohol sales to other major arenas on campus, the Star Tribune reports. Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, proposed a bill that would allow beer and wine to be sold at both Gopher hockey and basketball games after nearly $1 million in alcohol was sold at TCF Bank Stadium last season, equal to $80,000 in state tax revenue.

Radon tests

Eagan resident Lori Thompson-Garry is among those prodding the Legislature to adopt a new law related to radon gas. She urged lawmakers at a House committee last week to approve a bill that would require a radon test when a house goes on the market, the Fargo Forum reported. Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer, and Thompson-Garry's sister Janet died at 49 after a battle with lung cancer.

Mayo sticker shock

The Mayo Clinic is still pressing lawmakers to approve $585 million in state funding to help the world-renown medical center become an international health care destination. The money would be used to make upgrades in Rochester. Last week, lawmakers got a bit of sticker shock when it was reported that Mayo might in fact be asking for even more, the Rochester Post Bulletin reported.

Anti-bullying

A bill aimed at strengthening the state's anti-bullying law is advancing. Just days after a Minnesota House committee approved a new anti-bullying bill for state schools, a Senate panel passed its own version, KARE 11 reported. Ten-year-old Jake Ross testified that he could not escape his tormentors, KARE reported. "One of the bullying students stood up at the lunch table and said very loudly, 'Who's going to help me beat up Jake today?'"

Wildlife fund

A bill introduced last week would direct $6.4 million in Legacy Amendment funds to 15 metro area wildlife and conservation projects, MinnPost reported. Freshman Reps. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, and Anna Wills, R-Apple Valley, say the measure won't funnel money away from other statewide environmental and wildlife projects because there is $10 million left unspent in the Outdoor Heritage account for next year, MinnPost reports.

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