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Preview: Roads, budget, education on tap for 2015 Legislature

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Much like the Minnesota Capitol, the state Legislature is undergoing some changes.

Gov. Mark Dayton has an ambitious agenda heading into the 2015 Minnesota Legislature, which convenes Tuesday. But the DFL governor and the Democratic Senate majority will have to share power with Republicans, who are taking command of the House after two years.

Republicans and Democrats do agree on what big issues need to be addressed during the session, but there are clear differences on what changes each party wants to make, the Pioneer Press says, noting true bipartisanship will be a "work in progress."

The marathon of bills, amendments and debates convenes Tuesday at noon. Here's a look at some of the issues expected to be on the agenda:

Budget and taxes

Minnesota has a projected $1 billion budget surplus, which lawmakers will work with to decide on a budget to fund the government for the next two years.

Dayton and DFL officials have said the money should be put towards improving rural broadband access, childcare tax credit, youth scholarships, as well as changing the state's tax code to align more closely with the federal tax code, the Pioneer Press says.

GOP officials have hinted towards tax cut proposals to make the state friendlier to businesses, MPR News says.

Roads and bridges

What to do to fix Minnesota's thousands of "structurally deficient" roads and bridges is expected to be a priority in this year's session, the Pioneer Press reports.

Democrats and Republicans will have to compromise on how the state will fund the billions needed to keep its transportation system in decent shape, the Star Tribune says. Dayton says over the next decade, roughly $6 billion in new funds is needed to make that happen.

Dayton has proposed a wholesale gas tax to fund the repairs, but state Republicans suggest getting the money elsewhere, like the budget surplus, the general state sales tax or borrowing more in construction bonds, reports note.

Education

Democrats have said they want to increase school spending to help close the achievement gap, as well as push for early childhood education scholarships and a child care tax credit.

Republicans are expected to seek education reform, including changes to teacher tenure laws. Minnesota Action Network says the "last in, first out" mentality, which bases staffing on seniority instead of performance, can limit high quality teachers in schools. Dayton, who has vetoed such a change, isn't expected to support this, the Pioneer Press notes.

Republicans may also take up the Minnesota State High School Sports League's controversial policy for transgender student athletes, The Associated Press says.

Lawmakers will also likely weigh in on whether to increase funding to keep tuition frozen at state colleges and universities for another two years.

Minimum wage

House Republicans may seek to block future automatic increases to the state's minimum wage law, which the DFL-controlled Legislature passed last spring.

Some are also calling for the inflationary provision to be removed from the law, the Star Tribune says. This isn't expected to find support with Dayton or the DFL Senate majority, the AP notes.

Sunday liquor sales

The ban on Sunday liquor sales is a perennial issue at the Capitol, but this year may be different as proponents seek to revoke the old blue law. Supporters have suggested a plan that would allow cities to decide whether to allow Sunday liquor sales, rather than repealing the ban statewide.

June primary

There's a new push with powerful backing to move the state's current August primary to June.

Supporters, including new Secretary of State Steve Simon and incoming House Speaker Kurt Daudt, have said an earlier primary would boost turnout, the AP notes.

Dayton has said he would sign such a bill.

Privacy

Surveillance technology, such as police body cameras, drones and license plate readers, are expected to draw scrutiny from lawmakers.

Laws that govern how law enforcement officials can use these devices and how the data should be kept is expected to be discussed.

Health insurance

Lawmakers may look into stronger oversight for MNsure, the state's health care exchange, after technical glitches plagued the initial rollout of the program last year.

Critics have a long list of proposed improvements. Democrats have said they're open to suggestions for improving the program, but don't want to start the "Obamacare" debate over again, the Pioneer Press says.

Sex offender program

The state's controversial sex offender program, which is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit, is on lawmaker's must-do list during this session, the Pioneer Press says.

A task force recommended changes in 2012, but lawmakers haven't done much because they don't want to appear soft on sex offenders, reports note.

Medical marijuana

Medical marijuana was a major issue during the last legislative session, but it isn't expected to take up a lot of time this year, The Associated Press notes. Lawmakers may make a few tweaks to the law, but likely want to see how it rolls out before bringing the issue up again, the AP says.

Dayton has said he's willing to revisit the program, including possibly supporting expanding the list of eligible patients and increasing the distribution network, the Star Tribune reported.

Medical marijuana will become available to patients July 1.

Other topics

Lawmakers are expected to tackle several other topics that are important to Minnesotans this session, including sick time for labor unions, stricter drunken driving penalties, the state's new child protection law, Super Bowl tax breaks, Capitol renovations, among others, reports note.

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