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Military bill splits congressmen

ST. PAUL -- Two of Minnesota' most military-oriented politicians went different ways when the U.S. House approved the defense authorization bill.

John Kline, a Republican serving an area mostly south of the Twin Cities, voted against the military funding bill for the first time in his seven years as congressman because it contained what he described as divisive social policies.

Prime among those policies is a provision that has little to do with defense. It would allow greater federal involvement in investigating hate crimes, such as one that resulted in the death of a gay Wyoming man.

"It is a shame that majority (Democratic) leadership would jeopardize a bill that is critical to the success of our sons and daughters in uniform to push their political agenda," said Kline, a 25-year Marine veteran. "Our troops deserve the resources they need to complete their mission, but I cannot sit idly by while Democrats use our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines as political chess pieces to pass a completely unrelated and ill-conceived 'hate crimes' bill which is a direct assault on our First Amendment freedoms."

There were no such objections from U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat who serves most of southern Minnesota and a 24-year Army National Guard member.

He praised a provision giving retroactive payments to National Guard soldiers, who lost out on pay that was due them.

The bill included a Walz amendment to require the defense and veterans affairs secretaries to deliver Congress a report on an electronic records system for veterans that Walz said would improve medical care for them.

Racino back

A state lawmaker proposed a method to fund a Vikings football stadium.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, suggested adding slot machines to the state's two horse racing tracks, both in the Twin Cities area.

"Time is running out on the Vikings stadium issue," Hackbarth said, because their Metrodome lease expires in 2011.

The Vikings propose building a new $900 million stadium on the site of the current Metrodome, with the state chipping in at least $700 million.

Most lawmakers who have talked about the issue say the state cannot afford to pay that. Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he wants to keep the Vikings, but has not favored a taxpayer-supported stadium.

Hackbarth, who estimated $50 million a year could be collected, said legislators who just say "no" to financing a stadium are "kind of sticking their head in the sand."

The proposal would change the state constitution to allow putting casinos in race tracks, something known as a racino. Previous racino proposals have gone nowhere.

2 GOP names

A committee established to find ways to solve Minnesota state government's budget problems meets Oct. 19, with just two Republicans.

Legislative leaders announced that Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove are the only GOP members on the panel.

Democrats serving are Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis, Rep. Lyndon Carlson of Crystal, Senate President James Metzen of South St. Paul, Sen. Don Betzold of Fridley, Sen. Dick Cohen of St. Paul, Rep. Thomas Huntley of Duluth, Rep. Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington and Rep. Loren Solberg of Grand Rapids.

Legislative leaders avoided naming any of the numerous governor candidates of both parties to the committee.

Export on road

The Minnesota Trade Office plans two northern Minnesota meeting early next month to teach business leaders about exports.

The 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. meetings will be in Crookston on Nov. 4 and Bemidji the next day.

Topics for the meetings will include how to assess a company's export readiness, finding the right international markets, arranging shipments, collecting payments and other related issues.

More information is available from by e-mailing calling (651) 259-7495 or e-mailing

Franken: Cut breaks

U.S. Sen. Al Franken does not want drug makers to get tax breaks for marketing their medicines.

The Minnesota Democrat introduced what he called the Protecting Americans From Drug Marketing Act.

"Health care spending is out of control," Franken said. "And this bill represents a small but significant step towards reigning in unnecessary health care costs. There's no reason for drug companies to be getting a boost from taxpayers while Minnesota families are struggling to pay the costs of health care."

Franken estimated that eliminating the tax breaks would bring up to $3.5 billion a year into the federal government.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.