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Senators to examine Molnau's second job

ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators plan to closely examine Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau's second job. As the state's transportation commissioner, Molnau must be confirmed for the second time now that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has started his second term. But Senate ...

ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators plan to closely examine Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau's second job.

As the state's transportation commissioner, Molnau must be confirmed for the second time now that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has started his second term. But Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, told a reporter that he doesn't plan to hold confirmation hearings any time soon.

Murphy often complains that Molnau and Pawlenty have shortchanged transportation. He especially did not like the budget proposal Pawlenty unveiled last week because it depends mostly on borrowing money to build and fix roads. And he says Pawlenty thinks too much about highways.

"Once again, the governor is using the state's credit card as the primary funding tool to pay for a highway-only solution," Murphy said. "State highways are just one part of a massive system of local roads and streets, transit, port authorities, rail lines and reliever airports."

"We're looking at an unmet annual need of nearly $2 billion in transportation, and the governor's approach does little to address the problem head-on," Murphy added.

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Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said she expects Murphy to convene a confirmation hearing but said senators are not happy with MnDOT.

A great debate

Discussion of a compact banning movement of water in or out of the Great Lakes basin became a great debate in a House committee.

Four Republicans questioned whether the compact would take power away from Minnesota, which DFLers denied. GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty backs the compact. But by an 11-4 vote, the bill moved to the full House. A similar bill is moving through the Senate.

The water movement ban would be enforced by a council made up of representatives of the eight states and two Canadian provinces.

Tax bill OK'dMinnesota senators unanimously agreed to make state laws conform to federal income tax laws, saving Minnesotans $24 million.

About 111,000 Minnesotans will be able to deduct up to $4,000 in college tuition costs if Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs the bill. The measure also gives tax breaks to teachers who spend their own money for classroom supplies, and military personnel could invest in some retirement accounts without paying a penalty.

Financial crimesMinnesota's investigative task force for identity theft is in limbo after its commander was removed and two investigators quit, a state senator said Friday.

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Sgt. Chris Abbas, who led the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, was recalled to the Minneapolis Police Department, his home agency. Detective Jack Talbot said he resigned after learning that Abbas was gone. Another investigator also left in the wake of the reassignment.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, alleged Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion was behind Abbas' removal. Chaudhary, who is on the task force oversight council, called for Abbas and the investigators to be reinstated.

Campion said Chaudhary's allegations "falsely mischaracterized the situation" and that Abbas' reassignment was handled properly and legally.

Chaudhary said he wants more information before the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a confirmation hearing for Campion, who has led the Public Safety since June 2004.

Anoka County Attorney Robert Johnson, head of the Minnesota Financial Crimes Oversight Council, said the group aims to have a new commander in a month.

Mortgage fraud unitThe state Commerce Department's team of mortgage investigators would get reinforcements if legislators follow Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget recommendations, a recognition of rising concerns about fraud and predatory lending.

Pawlenty is requesting $600,000 more per year to hire three extra real-estate investigators to address "the growth in the level and complexity of fraud in the housing area."

Voice for studentsStudents live by rules set by school board members but have no say in their selections, a setup that would change under a bill before Minnesota lawmakers.

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Two DFLers, Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul and Rep. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis, are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school district elections. But they couldn't vote in tax referenda.

Offshore call centersThe change in political power in Minnesota's Legislature could give new heft to a "give-me-an-American-number" proposal that gives consumers an alternative to foreign call centers.

Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights and Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin, both DFLers, are pushing the legislation that would require customer service representatives to disclose what country they're calling from if a customer asks. Customers could request an alternative U.S. call center if personal or financial situation is being sought.

"We're getting more complaints from folks who say they can't understand customer service people, with the language barrier, and people are extra nervous about giving out personal information," Sparks said.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald. This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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