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In Minnesota, bill to help workers faces opposition

ST. PAUL - The economic crisis means Minnesota must help citizens facing job losses, struggling to find work or who risk losing their home, Democratic legislators said.

Lawmakers on Monday unveiled a package of potentially costly proposals to help poor residents and unemployed workers and make it tougher to force occupants from foreclosed rental housing.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposes some of the bill's key measures.

The bill prohibits home mortgage foreclosure for two years, offers new protections for renters, extends benefits for welfare recipients and provides state unemployment insurance to workers not eligible for an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

Bill author Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said national response to the economic downturn has been focused on bailing out banks and insurance firms.

"We need legislation that reflects the need of the public and not just big business and Wall Street," he said.

Tomassoni said the bill will cost the state, but could not estimate those costs.

No Republican lawmakers were part of the news conference announcing the legislation, and Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor opposes lifting a five-year limit on welfare benefits.

Pawlenty has opposed a mortgage moratorium, but has supported other mortgage legislation.

City gets building approval

Senators approved a bill streamlining the process for construction of a Cannon Falls library and fire station.

The bill by Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, outlines how the city of Cannon Falls can use the same firm to design and build the project.

The bill passed 56-7. Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said a provision in the bill may mean the city could accept a more costly bid.

"Usually we operate on low bid, and I think that that is probably the best value" for taxpayers, she said.

Bill pays council members

Minnesotans on a panel recommending how to spend tax money on outdoors projects should be paid for their efforts, senators said Monday.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill transferring $150,000 from a state fund to cover expenses of the new Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council. That panel of lawmakers and citizens is studying which outdoors projects to fund with money from a constitutionally dedicated sales tax increase voters approved in the November election.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the council's eight citizen members have attended meetings in St. Paul but have not been reimbursed for their travel expenses.

"They're coming here because they really care about this program," he said.

Anderson honored

A northern Minnesota highway would be named after the late Rep. Irv Anderson under a bill senators preliminarily approved Monday.

Anderson, a longtime Democratic representative from International Falls who served as House speaker in the mid-1990s, retired from the Legislature in 2006. He died in November.

The bill would name a stretch of U.S. 53 from Virginia to International Falls "Speaker Irvin N. Anderson Memorial Highway."

The bill awaits a final Senate vote. Similar legislation was introduced in the House.