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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 20 2013

Gay marriage again topic of fervent debate

St. Paul - The gay marriage issue’s two sides are engaged in smaller versions of last year’s campaign leading up to a constitutional amendment vote.

Gay marriage advocates rallied at the state Capitol during a Thursday sleet storm, drawing a few hundred people, including Gov. Mark Dayton, who restated his strong support for them.

And during the weekend, anti-gay marriage Minnesotans took a second road trip in a recreational vehicle scheduled to make a half-dozen stops to rally fellow opponents.

The new campaign looks a bit like the one last year, before voters opted not to put a same-sex marriage ban into the state Constitution.

With state budget bills due to pass the full House and Senate by the end of April, early May attention will turn to policy issues like gay marriage for many lawmakers while others negotiate budgets.

Democratic legislative leaders say they are optimistic a bill legalizing gay marriage will pass. Opponents also voice optimism as they travel greater Minnesota, where even many Democrats oppose gay marriage.

“We could not be any more excited to hit the road and meet fellow supporters of traditional marriage in Greater Minnesota,” said Crystal Crocker, Minnesota for Marriage’s grassroots director. “With the metro area and gay marriage lobbyists trying to force gay marriage on the majority of Minnesotans who want our state’s marriage law left as it is, we are ready to help Minnesotans around the state connect with their legislators in St. Paul.”

The chief gay marriage proponent in the House, Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minn., said she expects the bill to pass. “We’re very, very close.”

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, proposed dropping the word “marriage” from state law and replace it with “civil union.” Many gay marriage supporters and opponents do not like the idea, which Kelly considers a compromise.

Schedules out the door

It’s the time to ignore schedules in the Minnesota Legislature.

For instance, the House went into session at 9 a.m. Thursday, but quickly recessed (after a prayer and other formalities) and did not begin debate on the natural resources, environment and agriculture funding bill after they returned at 3:30 p.m.

It is that time of the legislative session; despite being in St. Paul since January, lawmakers are cramming in debates over a $38 billion, two-year budget.

Legislative leaders say their goal is to pass all budget bills by the end of the month. That will set up negotiations in conference committees between the House and Senate, and usually including Gov. Mark Dayton’s office, to create final budget plans.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said her environment, natural resources and agriculture funding bill will be tough to match up with a bill sponsored by Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, that covers many of the same items. It will take legislative staff several days to produce a comparison.

Tomassoni’s bill was more extensive than the Wagenius one, in part because it funds a variety of jobs and economic programs that were in another House bill.

It appears the next week will be packed with budget debate, featuring the massive public school education and health and human services measures. They are the two largest spending bills.

No Kline Senate run

U.S. Rep. John Kline told reporters Friday that he will not challenge U.S. Sen. Al Franken next year.

Instead, the Republican said he will seek re-election to his district south of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Franken, a first-term Democrat, has raised $2 million for his 2014 re-election bid. Republican opposition has not surfaced for Franken.

Dayton raises money

Gov. Mark Dayton reports he has raised $32,114.91 so far this year for the 2014 campaign.

The Democrat says he plans to seek re-election next year, but has not said if he will use mostly his own money to fund his campaign.

Xcel Energy rates

The Minnesota Commerce Department wants Xcel Energy to reduce its proposed

$285 million rate increase by $195 million.

“While Xcel improved its case on certain issues, our recommendation continues to urge the Public Utilities Commission to substantially reduce Xcel’s rate request on behalf of Minnesota ratepayers,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said.

Costs Xcel faces are lower than expected, the department says, so rate increases do not need to be as large as sought.

The Public Utilities Commission is expected to decide the Xcel rate case by fall.