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Background checks for coaches heads to governor

ST. PAUL - A bill requiring criminal background checks on coaches heads to the governor, over the objections of some rural lawmakers who say volunteers for athletics, speech teams and other school activities may not step forward under its provisions.

"I think this is going to be a mandate on our schools that will stifle assistance in the athletics arena," Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said.

Westrom, who was a high school wrestler, said wrestling teams, especially, need outside help because many weight classes do not have enough students. Former wrestlers, college students and parents step in to give wrestlers someone with whom to practice.

Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, said it not only is sports that will suffer under the bill the House passed Thursday 112-15. As a former speech coach, he relied on parents to help build sets for high school plays, something he feared may end if the bill becomes law.

"This bill has far-reaching consequences," Heidgerken said.

He predicted if the bill were law, it could eliminate many athletic, speech, drama and other programs in rural Minnesota.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said that when he was wrestling coach he often had outsiders help his athletes. He said he saw no problem with the practice, but said he supported the bill.

Bill sponsor Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said the background checks are needed in the light of several reports of improper contact by coaches and others.

Bigham said the bill does not require schools to reject any volunteers, it just requires them to conduct background checks on coaches and other adult helpers, paid or unpaid.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he supports the bill.

Bovine TB aid OK'd

Representatives approved, by 123-0, a bill to help northwest Minnesota farmers whose cattle herds are affected by bovine tuberculosis.

The measure heads to the governor for his approval.

It provides cash payments to farmers whose herds are destroyed to prevent the disease from spreading. And it takes other measures to prevent its spread.

Bridge blame game

Presidential candidate John McCain's blaming of federal earmarks as causing the Interstate 35W bridge to collapse in Minneapolis upset the Minnesota Senate's transportation chairman.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said he is troubled by McCain not understanding the importance of targeting money to projects with specific needs.

"Maybe the good senator should send the states a little more money," he said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, McCain's campaign national co-chairman, said he agrees with McCain's frustration about how some federal tax dollars are spent. Pawlenty said the Arizona senator was making a general point about Congress' "misprioritized" earmarking decisions.

Murphy, meanwhile, said his reading of McCain's comments is that the state did not spend enough money on the bridge.

"Senator McCain owes our state an apology," he said.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or