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Conference panels start Monday

ST. PAUL Minnesota House-Senate conference committees probably will begin hunting middle ground on major bills Monday, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller said. The House and Senate both have passed their major budget bills, which now must be...

ST. PAUL Minnesota House-Senate conference committees probably will begin hunting middle ground on major bills Monday, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller said. The House and Senate both have passed their major budget bills, which now must be reconciled.

The committees, made up of House and Senate members, will send the governor one compromise bill from measures both chambers passed.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty can either sign the bills or veto them. If bills are vetoed as Pawlenty has vowed to do to bills calling for tax increases the DFL-controlled Legislature may draw up new bills.

In recent years, legislative leaders have taken a hands-on approach to conference committee work. But Pogemiller said Senate leaders will allow them "to function independently."

Pogemiller said he expects the panels to work every day until an agreement is reached. House and Senate leaders have until Friday to decide how much will be spent in major budget areas.

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House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said some budget spending targets may be reached earlier in the week, opening the door for negotiators to agree on some budget measures. Otherwise, budget conferees can't finish their work until they have a budget target.

Committees still to be decided are ones that will take up bills for health and human services, taxes and education.

While budget bills have passed both houses, only the Senate has passed its tax plan, which raises taxes $1 billion. The House should deal with its tax bill in about a week, Kelliher said.

Mike Longaecker

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