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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 30 2012

Minnesota legislative notebook: Racino could now head to Senate vote

ST. PAUL – What started out as a minor education-related bill morphed Friday into a measure allowing casinos at Minnesota’s two horse-racing tracks.

The so-called racino proposal now could receive a full Senate vote after it stalled earlier.

State revenue from racinos would be used to help pay schools more than

$2 billion the state owes them after delaying payments to help balance the state budget.

The Senate Finance Committee amended the racino onto a small bill and argued about the issue more than two hours before approving the measure amid confusion.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, repeatedly tried to water down the racino provision, eventually failing amid disputes among Republicans. Hann and Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-South St. Paul, unsuccessfully tried a variety of parliamentary maneuvers to stop the issue.

Hann is an outspoken opponent of expanding gambling.

Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said racinos in Twin Cities suburbs could take business away from rural tribal casinos that employ 20,000.

However, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the state builds roads and otherwise helps tribal casinos, but gets no money in return.

Racino opponents say that allowing racinos in Twin Cities suburbs could take business away from rural tribal casinos. Opponents say racinos would hurt tribal casinos and gambling is not the way to support state programs.

The racino issue has been discussed for years, but Gov. Mark Dayton says he is leery of it because tribes would keep the issue tied up in court for years.

No hemp farming

Minnesota farmers still will not be able to grow hemp, the House decided Friday on a 74-52 vote.

When considering what otherwise was a noncontroversial farm bill, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, offered an amendment to allow hemp farming once the federal government approves it.

Kahn said Minnesota farmers should have the same ability as those in North Dakota to grow the product that can be used for paper, fuel and other products.

Northwestern Minnesota is a good place to grow hemp, said Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, saying it would give farmers in his area another commodity they could grow to make money.

Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said the proposal should have been considered by the Agriculture Committee, not by the full House.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said law enforcement agencies oppose the hemp proposal because of its close relationship with marijuana.

Representatives also turned down attempts to allow a wider sale of raw milk and to urge the federal government to drop Cuba trade sanctions.

Stadium hearing near

Supporters of a Vikings stadium expect a House commerce committee hearing early next week.

Chairman Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, said that he will not schedule a meeting until stadium supporters work out a back-up financing plan in case electronic pull tabs and bingo revenues fall short of expectations.

Hoppe said the Dayton administration, key legislators and charities that sponsor pull tab and bingo games are near agreement on the preferred funding mechanism, state revenues from charitable gambling. But the back-up plan is not ready.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, not a stadium supporter, said he is disappointed with Dayton comments that took charities to task.

Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said charities are just trying to make more money for things like ice rinks.

Sunday sales loses

Efforts to allow liquor stores to open on Sundays failed Friday in the Minnesota House.

A proposed amendment by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, to an otherwise routine liquor-related bill failed 97-25. An attempt by Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, to allow border county stores to sell liquor on Sundays failed 99-21.

“You will go across the river and see them piling up ... on Sundays,” Drazkowski said.

Not everyone agreed.

“There is nobody crying for Sunday liquor sales,” said Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth.

Gauthier’s community is next to Wisconsin, which does allow Sunday sales. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he is in a similar situation next to North Dakota, but his stores have not asked for Sunday sales.

“They believe their costs would go up,” Lanning said, because stores would be forced to be open another day.

Drazkowski, however, said the state is losing $145 million to other states.

Kriesel said he only has heard one argument against Sunday sales: “It has been that way forever.” Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said he does not drink, but supports Sunday sales. “You don’t have to go down, just because the liquor store is open, and buy a beer.”

The overall bill, which easily passed, included a provision like in a Senate bill to allow beer sales at the University of Minnesota football stadium.

Earlier fishing opening?

Two northeastern Minnesota lawmakers want to amend outdoors bills making their way through the Legislature to open the fishing season a week earlier.

The fishing opener usually falls on Mother’s Day weekend, so Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, suggested advancing it a week.

“In what is shaping up to be a do-nothing legislative session, today we are offering a proposal that we hope will give citizens of Minnesota something to feel good about,” the two said in a joint statement.

They call the suggestion the “mom’s amendment.”

Trust land change

Senators voted 54-8 Friday to require the state to better manage land it hold to fund schools.

School trust lands, mostly in northern Minnesota, do not produce as much income as some legislators want. The bill senators passed requires the Department of Natural Resources to give “undivided loyalty” to making money from the land, Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said.

A commission and a governor-appointed advisor would oversee school land profits, which would come from areas such as lumbering or selling mineral rights.

The House is to consider a more drastic change, to remove school trust land supervision from the DNR and giving the job to a newly created entity.


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.


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