Legislative notebook: Fireworks on lawmakers’ agenda

Minnesota lawmakers are considering allowing bigger and aerial fireworks.

They already are being used, Rep. John Kriesel said, because they are brought in from Wisconsin, South Dakota and North Dakota.

“My neighborhood sounds like Fallujah,” said the Cottage Grove Republican, who lost both legs in an explosion near Fallujah during the Iraqi war.

Kriesel said Minnesota loses revenue from forbidding fireworks available in neighboring states. The state banned most fireworks until 2002, and still outlaws some of the more powerful ones and those that shoot into the air.

Fire chiefs and related organizations opposed the bill, which passed a committee hurdle Thursday but has other committee vote ahead of it.

“What most people think is a safe and fun thing to have do have potential consequences,” said former state Fire Marshal Tom Brace, now representing the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association.

“Let the professionals use fireworks items,” he said, adding that there has been a 40-fold increase in fireworks injuries since 2002.

The bill would allow fireworks sales in tents, which Dan Peart of Phantom Fireworks said would be dangerous. A tent cannot provide the same protection as a hard-sided building, he said.

But Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said he likes allowing sales in tents and allowing a wider variety of fireworks.

“It seems too bad that we have so many people thinking the Minnesotans cannot be trusted,” said Cornish, chairman of the public safety committee that approved Kriesel’s bill Thursday.

“When a kid picks up a Black Cat and it goes off in his fingers, it is learning,” Cornish said. “He won’t do that next time.”

Sex offender bill OK’d

The Minnesota Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require community notification when a sex offender is released from the state treatment program to a halfway house.

The measure passed 61-0 in the Senate after passing 127-1 Monday in the House.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he supports the bill. It now awaits his signature.

The bill came in response to the expected release of a 64-year-old man who confessed to sexually molesting 29 youths.

The House and Senate bypassed typical rules to quickly move the bill through the Legislature. Representatives originally were told the offender could be released this week, but the Human Services Department, which runs the program, now has confirmed the earliest he could leave is March 12.

Currently, the public must be notified when an offender is released from prison, but there is no notification requirement for those leaving the state program.

Clarence Opheim will be the first to be discharged from the treatment program.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, voted for the bill but, like some others, questioned the process. He said he would have appreciated more time to discuss the bill in committees and have questions answered.

A frac fracas

A split House committee vote approved a bill limiting local governments’ ability to stop sand mines.

Center in the dispute is frac sand mining. A bill by Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, gives local governments the ability to pass an interim ordinance that could stop frac mining only for a year.

Goodhue and Wabasha counties have passed ordinances to stop fracking.

Sand in Minnesota and Wisconsin is sought to be used in hybrofracking, a controversial process used in the oil and natural gas industry.

Biodiesel delay

Some diesel engines would not be required to use a diesel-soybean oil mixture until 2020 under a bill advancing in the House.

Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, sponsors the bill that awaits full House action to allow engines such as those in locomotive and mining trucks to use pure diesel fuel until then. Current law would require them to use the soybean oil mix later this year.

Besides soybean oil, some biodiesel that falls under the bill also is made from animal fat.

State law requires diesel fuel to have 20 percent plant or animal oil mixed with diesel. Tractors and other big machinery can handle the so-called B20, but not all engines can.

Most engines in use by 2020 should be able to use B20.

No teacher strikes

Teachers would not be allowed to strike for higher pay if the local school board offered pay raises of the same percentage as increases in state aid paid to schools under a bill the House Education Finance Committee has approved.

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, said his bill also would give school districts flexibility when facing a choice of laying off teachers or holding down pay.

“I lived through that, a strike in the community,” Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said. “And it divides, and there’s just losers. There’s no winners in that.”

But Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said Downey’s bill would hurt students.

“The further away you get from the classroom, the further you get away from kids, the more inclined you are to dream up all of these things, all of these proposals, that do nothing to focus on kids,” Anzelc said.

Capitol funds

Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, Thursday announced he would not seek re-election and that he introduced a bill to fund state Capitol renovations by using funds designated for cultural and arts programs.

“Even the marble on the walls is crumbling,” Buesgens said. “It is time to prioritize the building’s restoration to preserve it for future generations.”

Funds to do the work, estimated to cost more than $240 million, would come from a source that now provides money for items such as public broadcasting, arts projects and history programs.

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