- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014
Minnesota House backs $500M tax-cut bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Acting with rare speed, the Minnesota House approved a $500 million package of tax cuts and repeals Thursday in a clear sign of the state’s improved fortunes.

Barely a week into the legislative session, the House voted 126-2 to send it over to the Senate for consideration. The lopsided vote underscored the popularity of tax-cut bills in an election year, as well as the breathing room that comes with a $1.2 billion budget surplus.

Gov. Mark Dayton and many in the Legislature are racing to undo some business sales taxes adopted last year, including one on warehousing services due to kick in April 1. The bill also aligns Minnesota’s tax code more closely with the federal one, making some exemptions and deductions available to state filers. Some of those breaks would be effective for people filing tax returns now.

“This clock is ticking. This is time-sensitive stuff we need to do right now,” said House Taxes Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington.

When fully implemented, hundreds of thousands of income tax filers would face lower tax burdens. The Democratic majority in the Senate hasn’t publicly embraced the House bill, which Dayton supports in concept. The governor said he wants a tax bill to him by March 14 so Revenue Department officials can adjust to the late changes.

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Lawmakers mount new push against Sunday liquor ban

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers hoping to lift the state’s decades-old law that forces liquor stores to be closed on Sunday are introducing a range of compromises that would soften the ban, as well as the option to fully repeal it.

A Democratic state senator and Republican representative teamed up Thursday against a ban that’s grown increasingly unpopular with Minnesota consumers, but which has proven tough to repeal. Many small liquor store owners support the Sunday prohibition, saying it would force them to be open a seventh day of the week for competitive reasons while not substantially increasing weekly profits.

The powerful Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association opposes lifting the ban, and over several years the group has successfully encouraged liquor store owners around the state to lobby their legislators against changes. But critics of the ban have also grown more organized in recent months, and got a boost recently when Gov. Mark Dayton said he’d sign a repeal bill.

“Eventually, we believe this ban will go away entirely,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. “But to get us closer, we’re offering a variety of options from which legislators can choose.”

To that end, Reinert and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, laid out several possible paths:

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St. Paul reaches settlement in fatal landslide

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The city of St. Paul has agreed to pay $1 million to the families of two children who were killed and one who was injured in a landslide during a school field trip last May, according to documents released Thursday.

The City Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday to approve the settlement agreement, which was posted on the council’s website as part of the meeting agenda.

The families of the children who died - Haysem Sani, 9, and Mohamed Fofana, 10 - would each get $400,000, while $200,000 would go to the family of Devin Meldahl, 10, who suffered skull, leg and rib fractures.

The fourth-graders were part of a group from Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park that went fossil hunting at Lilydale Regional Park, which runs along the Mississippi River. They were in one of the park’s clay pits when part of the bluff gave way, bringing down sand and shale. Geologists say rain likely played a role, as there was light rain the day of the field trip and several inches had fallen the week before. The pits were popular destinations for school trips but have been closed to the public since the accident.

Two city-funded investigations last year found that city employees knew of past landslides in the park but could not have predicted the tragedy. The agreement states that the city denies liability but wanted to avoid litigation. The families had filed notice of their intent to sue but not an actual lawsuit.

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Kaler’s speech touts diversity, safety efforts

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler says the university will redouble efforts to recruit students of color and ensure student safety.

Kaler delivered his annual State of the University address Thursday, his third since taking on the top job.

In the address, Kaler touted accomplishments from the past year, from breaking ground on a new health care clinic to piloting three-year degrees at the College of Design.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1lDoVWwhttp://bit.ly/1lDoVWw ) reports Kaler also spoke about challenges facing the university - a “poor” record on enrolling diverse students, an uptick in robberies targeting Twin Cities students and a looming wave of faculty retirements.

The university has an annual budget of more than $3 billion and has about 63,000 students across its campuses.

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