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Minnesota citizens urge property tax reform

ST. PAUL - Ideas about how to improve Minnesota's property tax system are coming into the Capitol. One Minnesotan suggested: "Cap the total property tax at 'X' percentage of your home value at the date of purchase." Another added: "After 15-20 ye...

ST. PAUL - Ideas about how to improve Minnesota's property tax system are coming into the Capitol.

One Minnesotan suggested: "Cap the total property tax at 'X' percentage of your home value at the date of purchase."

Another added: "After 15-20 years as resident on the same property, your property taxes would be frozen for senior citizens on a fixed income."

Such ideas are coming in daily since Monday's announcement that the House property tax committee is looking for ideas.

Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said he wants to hear from taxpayers across Minnesota before the committee finishes its work on lowering and reforming property taxes. He said some of the best ideas will be debated in his committee.


A telephone line - (651) 297-8391 or (800) 551-5520 - and Internet site - www.house.mn/dfl/ptax/propertytaxproject.html - remain available for comments.

Energy breezes

Renewable energy efforts in the Senate appear headed on the fast track.

A key environmental committee passed legislation Thursday that calls for 25 percent of Minnesota's electricity to be generated by renewable sources by 2025. Xcel Energy would have to produce 30 percent of its energy by renewable methods by 2020.

"This will be the strongest renewable energy law in the country," said bill author Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul.

The measure was passed unanimously to the Senate floor, where it is expected to be debated Wednesday. A final Senate vote could come Friday.

Environmentalists, utility firms, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty have agreed to terms of the bill, Anderson said.

Similar legislation authored by Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Madison, is being heard in the House. Anderson, who was nearly moved to tears of joy during the Senate hearing, predicted a renewable energy bill could be signed into law by the governor by month's end.


Ban on front burnerThe Legislature could pass a statewide smoking ban within a few weeks, a leading lawmaker said.

A House health panel passed a smoking ban bill Thursday, but it has at least one more committee stop before it reaches the floor.

The Senate bill gets its first committee hearing Monday. That may be the only stop before it hits the floor for a full Senate vote, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark said.

"I think we can do a good and thorough briefing on the issues there," Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said Friday.

"Do I suspect it will pass? Yes, I do," said Deputy Senate Minority Leader Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton, who opposes the ban.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he will sign a statewide smoking ban.

Confirmations hazyTwo of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's appointed state agency leaders face uncertain futures.

A DFL-led Senate committee recently sent the confirmation of Iron Range Resources Commissioner Sandy Layman to the full Senate without a recommendation that she be confirmed.


"I don't know what's going to happen on the floor there," Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said Friday.

There were signs Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau's future also is in doubt. Clark suggested Molnau, who also is lieutenant governor, is responsible for transportation funding problems.

"Maybe that experiment is showing it's not working," Clark said of Molnau's dual roles.

The Senate Transportation Committee, led by Steve Murphy of Red Wing, may discuss the agency budget before considering Molnau's fate.

"This is politics, and I think it speaks a little bit to what the Democrats are about," responded Assistant Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

Molnau and Layman were confirmed in 2003, but they must be reconfirmed because Pawlenty is starting a new term.

Health pool eyedTwo freshman Democrats, including a Bemidji senator, announced plans Thursday for a statewide health plan purchasing pool.

Sen. Mary Olson said the plan is aimed at small business owners and the self-employed, who don't have access to employee health insurance pools.

The state purchasing pool would cut down on administrative costs, and should mean more money going toward patient care, she said.

"Health care shouldn't be a commodity," said Olson, who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona.

The bill first calls for a study to evaluate such a system. Olson didn't have a cost of the study, but it's "like a drop in the ocean compared to the overall savings" that could be derived from a statewide health plan purchasing pool.

More restraintMinnesota kids would need to ride in child restraints until 8 years of age, double the current requirement, under a bill approved by a House committee.

The bill Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, would fine a driver $50 for a violation, although the fine could be waived if the driver proves within two weeks he or she obtained a child restraint system.

Longaecker, Davis and Wente work for Forum Communications, which owns the Herald.

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