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Brian Bakst, Associated Press, Published May 11 2012

A to Z: Snapshot of Minn. Legislature 2012 session

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota lawmakers quickly bolted for home after spending almost four months sparring over thousands of bills they introduced, debated and mostly shelved.

Thursday's conclusion marks the unofficial start of the campaign season, where the parties will offer far different takes about how things went down. Republicans, who hold tenuous House and Senate majorities, are resisting the do-little tag Democrats will be eager to slap on them in a legislative campaign that will stretch from Ada to Zumbrota.

In that vein, here's an A to Z guide on the 2012 session:

A — Alcohol. Break out the booze at TCF Bank Stadium. After three years of being dry, lawmakers are letting the beer flow at University of Minnesota football games. If school officials give the OK, sales would occur through halftime. New laws will also let the wine flow more freely at fruit farms and winery festivals.

B — Borrowing. Lawmakers rang up just shy of $500 million on the state credit card for nips and tucks on college campuses, new flood walls and local road and bridge repairs. That doesn't count the bonds that will be sold separately to pay for a new Vikings stadium.

C — Capitol. Renovations of the century-old building with the crumbling exterior and water-stained interior will begin, but at a slower pace than some had hoped. Lawmakers set aside $44 million for an upgrade expected to cost more than five times that.

D — Dirt. There's a variety that now carries special significance in Minnesota. Lester, a loamy soil covering more than 600,000 acres in 17 Minnesota counties, was proclaimed in law to be the official state soil.

E — Ellen Anderson. Republican senators pushed her out of a job as Public Utilities Commission chair, refusing to confirm the former Democratic senator and Gov. Mark Dayton appointee for the post. She's now serving as an administration energy adviser.

F — Fireworks. Sparklers and poppers will have to do. Dayton vetoed an attempt to legalize fireworks that make a bigger bank or those that fly through the sky, which many people now buy anyway from neighboring states.

G — Guns. Prosecutors can now carry firearms on the job (with an appropriate permit). But another high-profile firearms bill, giving people greater to use lethal force to protect themselves and property, was vetoed.

H — Horse racing. Out of nowhere in the session's final weeks, horse track owners cut a deal that legislators overwhelmingly embraced. It allows them to supersize their poker rooms and sell simulcasts of their live races to tribal casinos.

I — I do. Add administrative law judges to the people who can perform wedding services. They join clergy, active and retired judges and some residential school administrators as eligible to oversee nuptials.

J — Jacob's Law. Both parents will now be notified if their child is a possible victim of abuse, neglect or sexual assault. Named for a young boy who was sexually abused by a neighbor, it closes a loophole that left some noncustodial parents in the dark about their child's well-being.

K — Killers. A new law provides at least a month of public notice ahead of parole hearings for convicts serving time for murdering police officers. It's in response to some murderers nearing potential release because they were sentenced before passage of a 1993 law establishing a true life term for killings involving police officers.

L — License fees. Casting a line or going after big game will cost more. Spurred on by outdoors groups, lawmakers consented to the first hikes in fishing and hunting fees since 2001. Adult resident anglers will pay $22 — $5 more — a season. Deer hunters will see a $4 spike, to $30.

M — Military veterans. Private employers received permission to give a hiring preference to all veterans and spouses of veterans who have died or have a service-related disability.

N — New faces. There will be many of them in the Legislature after November's election. New political maps, upward ambitions, frustration over gridlock and age contributed to 40 lawmakers announcing they wouldn't seek new terms. That's not even counting those that could face electoral defeats.

O — Online textbooks. Lawmakers ordered Minnesota's state colleges to set up a panel to study ways to bring down class book costs. Options include greater use of online textbooks that students say would catch up with the times and lighten backpack loads, too.

P — Photo ID. A measure requiring voters to present government ID to prove they are who they say they are is ballot bound. The proposed constitutional amendment is one of two on November's ballot — the other would put a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.

Q — Quick finish. Lawmakers were plotting their first April escape since 1998, but wound up staying a couple of weeks into May. They could have gone as late as May 21.

R — R.I.P. Honor guards for funerals of fallen soldiers and veterans will be compensated. Lawmakers set aside $100,000 for cost reimbursements. Money was discontinued for the program during a budget fix last year, but officials scrambled to undo the cut once veterans groups expressed outraged.

S — Stadium(s). Two pro sports teams got their wish for better digs. The Vikings received about $500 million in public subsidies toward a new football stadium and the Timberwolves will benefit from an upgrade to the Target Center arena. The St. Paul Saints baseball club will get a chance to vie for a newly established grant that could make the team's new ballpark bid come true.

T — Teacher tenure. Dayton nixed what Republicans put as their top education priority — to reduce seniority protections for teachers when schools do layoffs. They were trying to end the layoff sequencing of first in, last out that some say purges good young teachers from the classroom.

U — Unions. Labor groups were braced for a right-to-work fight they never really got. That's because Republican legislative leaders didn't get behind a ballot push by some conservative lawmakers to make union membership voluntary in public and private that have unions.

V — Vetoes. Dayton gave a workout to his executive power to block bills. He struck down 30 bills — and could strike more before he's done acting on late-arriving measures.

W — Welfare benefits. The Legislature imposed new limits on where and how recipients can use their electronic benefits cards. They can get cash off the cards only in Minnesota and its neighboring states, and those caught more than twice using their benefits to buy alcohol or tobacco will be disqualified for life. Attempts to require drug testing and longer wait times for first-time applicants got snipped.

X — Xcel Energy Center. The city of St. Paul hoped for hockey arena loan relief as part of the Vikings deal, but settled for a different deal instead. St. Paul won a $2.7 million annual grant that it can use toward sports facilities, which could free up money to help with Xcel later.

Y — Yams. Or tomatoes. Or onions. You name it, prison inmates can now grow it as part of a newly authorized correctional facility gardening program. Some of the fresh produce will be used to feed inmates and some will go to local food shelves and charities.

Z — Zoom zoom. Efforts to speed travel with toll-style MnPass lanes through congested northeastern suburbs stalled. Key highways in that area could still get new lanes, but drivers won't have to shell out to use them.


Brian Bakst has covered Minnesota politics for The Associated Press since 1999.


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