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Briefly: Early voting measure supported

ST. PAUL - Minnesota voters could cast ballots in person during the weeks leading up to Election Day under a bill senators supported Friday.

Minnesota would join states that offer early in-person voting. Voters could cast ballots at designed polling places during a two-week window before Election Day.

The election bill, which senators preliminarily approved, also moves the state primary election from early September to the first Tuesday in June. Supporters said that would provide more time to process ballots, particularly from soldiers serving overseas, but opponents said political campaigns are long enough with a September primary.

Bill sponsor Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said the elections package is in part a response to problems detected during Minnesota's unresolved U.S. Senate race.

The bill modifies absentee ballot requirements and prevents the courts from allowing candidates to decide whether certain absentee ballots are counted, as was allowed in the Senate election recount.

Senate Republicans' effort to require that voters provide photo identification at the polls was rejected.

Outdoor plans debated

The Minnesota House and Senate are finalizing similar, but competing, plans to spend new sales tax revenue on outdoors and arts projects.

The proposals call for about $210 million in spending for the year beginning July 1. Voters approved a 0.375 percent sales tax increase in the November election to fund outdoors initiatives, water clean-up projects, parks and trails and the arts.

The House passed its proposal 78-51 late Friday, and senators gave their plan preliminary approval. Most of the controversy surrounded nearly $70 million targeted for fish and game habitat.

Representatives made changes to the habitat spending recommendations that were made by the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council. The House also dropped former Sen. Bob Lessard's name from the council.

The Senate took the council's recommendations.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who served on the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council, said the advisory panel made its spending recommendations after it reviewed proposals totaling around $240 million - more than three times what was available.

New license supported

Lawmakers propose creating an enhanced driver's license to ease travel across the Canadian and Mexican borders.

A Senate transportation bill near final passage would create the special driver's license that will include an embedded radio chip identifying the license holder as a U.S. citizen.

U.S. citizens crossing the Mexican or Canadian borders will be required to prove citizenship beginning in June. The enhanced license will cost $15 more than a regular license.

The Senate bill also would allow the governor to order that the biodiesel fuel content used in Twin Cities-area public buses be lowered in cold-weather months. There are concerns the fuel, stored in large tanks, can clog engines in the cold.

Marijuana moves

A House bill permitting seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana to ease pain is nearing a final vote.

The measure, sponsored by DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia, passed the House Finance Committee Friday.

The legislation allows doctors to authorize use of marijuana for people suffering from certain illnesses and makes it legal for patients to possess a limited amount of medical marijuana.

Senators already passed a medical marijuana bill. Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposes the legislation.

Mulch bill rejected

Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that proposed requiring that retailers selling cocoa bean mulch post a notice near the product warning that it is poisonous to pets.

"Many of us are pet lovers and will go to considerable lengths to care for and protect our pets," Pawlenty wrote in a letter announcing his veto. "This legislation is well intended, but it is an example of legislative overreach."

A better approach would be to require manufacturers to post warning labels on products themselves, not at the point of purchase, Pawlenty suggested.