Legislative update, week 19: Gay marriage vote Monday; budget deal reached

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It's rare that more than a few people would glance up at the electronic board that tallies votes in the Minnesota House.

But last week, many people across the state were glued to media coverage of the House's most high-profile vote of the year, as lawmakers approved a bill that would legalize gay marriage in the state. The board lit up with 75 green-light yes votes, and 59 red no's.

On Monday, the Senate is expected to follow suit, and Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign it into law, which would make Minnesota the 12th state to allow same-sex marriage. Marriage ceremonies would be allowed beginning Aug. 1.

"It's not time to uncork the champagne yet. But it's chilling," Rep. Steve Simon, a suburban Democrat who backed the bill, said at a boisterous rally in the Capitol rotunda after the vote. MPR talks with same-sex couples about what their long battle for marriage equality means to their lives.

Bill opponents lamented the vote, which they said was out of touch with the way many Minnesotans view marriage. "Hearts and minds are changing on this," House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt said. "But Minnesotans are still divided."

Meanwhile, lawmakers are rushing to wrap up business this week with an eye on a scheduled adjournment date of May 20. None of the items of unfinished business are bigger than a state budget deal.

DFL leaders and Dayton have been meeting in the governor's office in recent days, including through the weekend, driving toward compromises on big questions about taxes and spending levels for the next two years, the Star Tribune reports. And Sunday, Dayton and legislative leaders said they had the framework of a deal.

The Star Tribune reports the deal increases state revenue by $2 billion and provides $400 million in property tax relief. Much of the additional money comes from raising income taxes paid by the highest-earning 2 percent of Minnesotans, and from a higher tax on tobacco.

A Senate plan to extend the sales tax to clothing was left out of the package.

The agreement leaves some specifics - such as whether to raise the alcohol tax - up to the conference committees that will be busy this week putting more flesh on the bones of the budget deal.

Last week

Here's a glimpse at other legislative action from last week.

Minimum wage

Lawmakers would have to come to some sort of compromise on a minimum wage hike before it gets sent to Dayton. The Minnesota Senate on a 39-28 vote last week approved a minimum wage hike that would boost paychecks for about 200,000 workers in the state. The measure would raise the minimum wage to $7.75 an hour by 2015, up from the $7.25 federal level that most employers in the state pay. The House has OK'd a plan to hike the hourly standard to $9.50 an hour by 2015. GOP critics say either hike is a job killer.

Child sex abuse

The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would allow lawsuits against churches, schools and other organizations that may have covered up child sexual abuse decades ago. The measure would drop the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse civil suits. The House passed a similar bill and Dayton is expected to sign it.

Child-care unions

A bill that would allow roughly 9,000 child care providers and personal-care attendants to bargain collectively with the state died on a tie 11-11 vote. Two DFL lawmakers joined Republicans in voting against it. GOP critics said the workers already have groups, like trade groups, to watch out for their interests. Unions had made the bill a priority this year.

Frac and fish

Efforts to slow the frac sand mining industry have mostly failed this session. But one measure that has the strong backing of Dayton still stands a chance this session, observers say. The legislation would prohibit frac sand mining within a mile of a trout stream or spring, and that would stall the development of at least 10 proposed frac sand mines in southeastern Minnesota, MPR says.

Felons

The House approved a measure last week that would prevent private employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories on applications. The Senate approved a similar bill last month.

I-35W bridge

The House approved a bill that would finalize a disposal plan for the thousands of tons of steel from the Interstate 35W bridge that fell in 2007. A Senate panel is expected to approve the measure Monday. The plan would give historians, safety officials, teachers and victims of the collapse six months to collect free pieces of the steel. After that, the state could sell the rest to scrap dealers. Officials expect about 3,260 tons of steel to net $645,000.

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