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Minnesota Legislative Roundup: State Senate likely to approve a health chare exchange

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A final vote is expected later today (11am debate start) and the Minnesota Senate will likely approve a "health care exchange" -- allowing uninsured and insured Minnesotans to pick from health policies pre-screened by a special board. The DFL-controlled House passed the measure last Thursday and Majority Leader Erin Murphy says Republicans' opposition was a continuation of the status quo. Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann contends the Democrats' health insurance exchange bill is "the most extreme and partisan version of the Obamacare exchange, raising taxes and putting more burdens on the economy, and raising the cost of insurance to consumers." Governor Dayton disagrees and says he'll "enthusiastically" sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

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We'll get a peek at the rough outlines of Democrats' proposed state budget this week when they release their so-called "targets", which are spending numbers for broad categories of the state budget. House Speaker Paul Thissen says the budget must work for middle-class Minnesotans. But House Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt unfavorably refers to the governor's tax plan as "the tip of the iceberg for middle-class Minnesotans." Top Democrats say their budget targets will be "in a very similar ballpark" to the governor -- although the mix of tax increases might be different from Dayton's proposal.

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Debate will continue at the State Capitol this week on a number of gun-related measures as lawmakers get ready to go on break for Passover and Easter. A bill requiring universal background checks cleared a key Senate committee last week. Minneapolis Democrat Jeff Hayden says background checks and mental health need to be considered. But gun rights advocates strongly oppose background checks. House Speaker Paul Thissen says he's optimistic the two sides will find common ground to move forward on some kind of gun safety legislation -- but says whether or not that includes background checks remains to be seen.

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Advocates are pushing for legislation to increase state funding to help fund domestic violence programs across these state. Liz Richards is executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women and says there has been an erosion of basic services in the state. She says there are currently six counties in Minnesota that receive no state dollars for their domestic violence services. Richards says they are asking for a funding increase of three-million dollars over the next two years. So far this year, seven women and one man have been murdered by a current or former intimate partner.

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This week, a state Senate committee will discuss a bill that would prohibit schools from placing a student in a classroom led by a teacher deemed unsatisfactory under state standards if that student had an underperforming teacher the previous year. But teacher's union Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher is surprised that it even got a hearing, given that it falls under a law he says is broken. While there haven't been any bills introduced this session to amend the teacher evaluation law, Dooher says there *should* be. He wants to see a system that regularly evaluates teachers and does it based in research and best practices to make underperforming teachers more effective.

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Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is talking transportation today at the state Capitol. The Minnesota Republican will push for what she calls much-needed transportation projects in the 6th District. Bachmann is expected to call for an expansion of Interstate 94 and upgrades to Highway 10. She'll be joined at a press conference by state lawmakers and small business owners. Last year, Bachmann sponsored a bill that authorized construction of a new 700-million-dollar bridge over the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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