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Danielle Nordine and Don Davis, Forum Communications Co., Published April 02 2012

Dayton signs bill to let businesses manage their environmental permits

ST. PAUL – A second step in speeding up state-issued permits to businesses looking to expand or build in the state became law Monday.

“This is a very rewarding moment,” Gov. Mark Dayton said minutes after signing the bill that he and Republican lawmakers say will help Minnesota’s business climate.

The law builds on one enacted a year ago to set a 150-day goal for the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency to issue construction permits. Those agencies must issue permits before many business projects may continue.

The new law allows businesses to hire their own permit manager, instead of relying on the state to do that work. It also allows businesses “to get their questions answered in a more timely fashion,” said bill author Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

House author Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said governments that want to do projects such as building roads also should get faster action.

Also in the law is a provision that extends feedlot permits to 10 years; they now last five years. About 1,000 feedlots have permits.

State officials could not give an estimate about how many permits would be affected by the new law.

“This legislation brings the state’s regulatory process into the 21st century while still ensuring that our environment is protected for future generations,” said President David Olson of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Synthetic drugs

Consequences for selling synthetic drugs soon could be stronger in Minnesota.

The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Monday that would make the sale of synthetic drugs, compounds meant to mimic the effects of the actual drugs, a felony. It would carry penalties of up to five years in jail.

Giving away such compounds would become a gross misdemeanor under the plan, and possession would remain a misdemeanor.

The bill also would make many more chemicals illegal and make it easier for the state Pharmacy Board to add drugs to the list of illegal substances.

“It would appear that folks out on the street are inventing or reinventing these drugs faster than we can change these laws,” bill author Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said. “It’s sort of a new approach and an effort to stay ahead of folks that are manufacturing these chemicals.”

The House approved a similar bill last week.

Financial literacy

Lawmakers, state leaders, students and military members joined Monday to encourage Minnesotans to learn more about finances and promote programs that would help them do so.

Dayton proclaimed April Financial Literacy Month and announced outreach efforts across the state. Each week of the month, events will focus on financial issues facing different groups, from grade school children to veterans and members of the military to seniors.

Topics will include student loans and financial aid, family budgeting, home ownership, finances and avoiding fraud.

Lawmakers are contributing to the efforts as well, said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead. For example, he said a health and human services bill approved by the House last week includes a provision to continue task force work on financial literacy in Minnesota.

“It’s one (issue) that really should be supported bipartisanly,” he said.

White Earth picks bank

The Credit Suisse bank will finance a Twin Cities casino if the White Earth Nation wins legislative and Dayton’s approval.

“They share our confidence that a metro casino will be a win for Minnesota taxpayers and a win for White Earth Nation,” tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said in a letter to legislative leaders. “The expertise and financial resources of Credit Suisse also open the door to creative solutions to build the metro casino.”

So far, the White Earth proposal to build a Twin Cities casino has obtained little traction in the Minnesota Legislature.

Vizenor said the state could get up to $1 billion in new revenue in the first five years of casino operation.

Casino construction and related costs would total $700 million.

Others tribes that operate casinos in the Twin Cities area oppose the White Earth plan.

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Don Davis and Danielle Nordine report for Forum Communications Co.