Minnesota House opens session by approving more heating aid

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Isn't opening day of the legislative session just for ceremony? Not this year.

The Minnesota House suspended its rules to put additional money for the state's heating assistance fund on a fast track and then unanimously approved a $20 million transfer, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reports.

The Forum says rural lawmakers in particular spoke in favor of replenishing the fund. Joe Radinovich, the Crosby DFLer who sponsored the bill, says without it the fund will run out of money in early March.

Rural Minnesotans are more likely than their city counterparts to depend on propane as their heating fuel. Consequently, they've been hardest hit by the propane supply crunch and price spike. Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman says propane that sold for $1.60 a gallon last fall was going for $6.67 a gallon earlier this winter and has now dropped back to $3.89, the Forum reports.

The House's vote to transfer $20 million from the general fund to the Low Income Energy Assistance Program appears likely to be matched by the Senate soon. The Star Tribune reports Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says the chamber may vote on it Monday and it's poised to be the first bill to reach Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

Session Daily notes that Dayton used his executive authority Tuesday to increase the amount families are eligible to receive from $500 to $1,000. He also raised the income threshold for qualifying. The House reports that as of Feb. 20 more than 108,000 households were receiving assistance through the program.

Other measures that lawmakers are considering as the 2014 session gets underway include a move to ban the use of tanning beds by teenagers and another that require law enforcement to gain a search warrant before tracking someone's location with their cell phone signal, Forum News Service reports.

Another would revise the state law governing data breaches like the one Target has been dealing with since late last year. The St. Cloud Times reports the measure would require that people whose information may have been stolen be notified by a retailer within 48 hours and be offered a year of free credit monitoring and a $100 gift card.

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