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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 27 2011

Minnesota Legislature: Republicans push photo ID voting bill

ST. PAUL – Legislative Republicans who campaigned last fall saying they want Minnesotans to produce photo identification cards before being allowed to vote have followed through with bills likely to be debated soon.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, who was the state’s chief elections official for eight years as secretary of state, said that her bill combined the photo ID requirement with providing state-funded computers to most voting precincts.

“It moves us into the 21st century,” she said.

Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, said he knows of no voting problems in his west-central part of Minnesota, but the undetermined cost to make election-law changes would be money well spent.

“In this situation, there is a justification to help the voting process,” Vogel said.

Since polls show that 80 percent of Minnesotans support a voter photo ID law, he added, the bill should pass.

Democrats, led by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, blasted the measure, saying it will be expensive and there is no indication that there is any significant voter fraud that needs correcting.

“At a time when lawmakers are looking to streamline government and create efficiencies, (Kiffmeyer’s bill) includes many proposals that would significantly increase the state’s budget deficit and create higher on-going costs for cities, counties and townships,” Ritchie said.

Penalty for death

A bill to raise the penalty for some drivers who cause a fatality passed out of its first House committee Wednesday.

Up to a year in jail and a fine of $3,000 would be possible for people who cause a death by driving carelessly, said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.

A victim advocacy group unsuccessfully lobbied to expand the bill to include incidents where “great bodily harm” resulted from careless driving.

Cuts hurt 'poorest'

An Otter Tail County official told a Senate committee Wednesday that budget cuts in human services programs hurt “the poorest of the poor.”

John Dinsmore, the county’s human services director, said that cuts forced him to lay off 15 people, more than 13 percent of his staff.

Keeping people in his department working “can serve as an economic generator,” he said.

Human services programs mostly provide basic food and health care needs to the poor and disabled.

Animals would avoid tax

Animals sold by nonprofit animal shelters would be exempt from sales tax under a bill moving through the Legislature.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, sponsors the bill that could be included in an overall tax bill.

Sandra Shirley, a Farmington animal shelter worker, told the House Tax Committee that money saved from not collecting taxes could go toward veterinary and food expanses.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com