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Don Davis and Danielle Killey, Forum News Service, Published April 22 2013

Minn. Earth Day rally pushes clean energy

ST. PAUL – Gov. Mark Dayton told hundreds gathered Monday at the Capitol that Minnesota should move toward cleaner energy and set a goal to eliminate power use from coal-fired plants.

Those at the rally pushed lawmakers to pass legislation setting solar electricity generation standards for utility companies, encouraging solar production and shifting to other energy production methods.

“That transition may cost a few extra dollars,” Dayton said, but it is worth it to assure a cleaner environment in the state.

He said lawmakers and advocates need to convince everyone there is a problem. Some utility companies are resisting energy changes, Dayton said.

“Before we can make progress, we have to stave off being pushed even farther back,” he said.

Other speakers said moving toward more clean energy use, such as from wind and solar power, will help create jobs for Minnesotans as well as help the environment.

The rally, on Earth Day, was part of the Minnesota Clean Energy and Jobs campaign, a coalition of labor, youth, faith, environment and business representatives.

Military aid

Part of a funding bill passed during the weekend is designed to help military families and veterans.

The bill increases Veterans Affairs Department funding 18 percent.

“Members of our military and their families make many sacrifices, and all of us benefit,” said Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown. “This legislation will allow us to better support veterans and their families. The bill includes improved higher education affordability and will provide assistance for Minnesota veterans who are homeless.”

The Minnesota GI Bill would provide an education benefit to the spouse or child of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

The bill also provides permanent honor guard funding for current or former military members. In recent years, there has not been enough money for honor guards.

Limited arts trips

Rep. Mary Sawatzky convinced fellow lawmakers to restrict the state Arts Board from sending grant recipients out of the country.

The Willmar Democrat took her inspiration from Republicans who complained that the Arts Board gave an artist a grant for a Bora Bora trip.

“I don’t think that’s a responsible way to use our taxpayers dollars,” she said.

Under her amendment, the Arts Board must restrict travel to Minnesota, unless the cost is less than 5 percent of the total grant.

Service animal change

A bill signed into law Monday by Dayton is meant to make it easier for people with disabilities to use service animals.

The law makes it clear that the animals, such as dogs helping the blind, are service animals and not pets. It also removes a law provision requiring service animals be identified as such.

The law brings Minnesota into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.