In Saturday session, legislators tackle plenty, but not the budget

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DFL state Reps. John Ward of Brainerd, front, and Michael Paymar of St. Paul talked as the House was meeting on Saturday.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Facing a swift-approaching deadline to get a state budget done, Minnesota lawmakers met in a rare Saturday session to work on everything but.

The House took up a controversial outdoors and arts funding measure and a bill to allow gun owners to use their weapons to defend themselves beyond their homes if they are threatened with harm. The Senate handled proposals to retool lawsuit rules.

Less formally, lawmakers also heard from the Minnesota Vikings, who continue to pitch their plan to build a new stadium in Ramsey County.

"We believe the Vikings have done what the state leaders and legislators have asked us to do," said a letter from the team's owners that Vikings' vice president Lester Bagley hand-delivered around the Capitol Saturday.

On Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton expressed concerns about the Vikings' Ramsey County plan. He said it may not embody the "People's Stadium" the state needs and could give the team near complete control of the site, without much benefit to taxpayers.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, House sponsor of the stadium proposal, said he, too, felt unsettled about giving the Vikings so much site control. Lanning said the Vikings measure will need to go through at least two committees before it reaches the House floor.

"Whether we can do it or not in the very few days we have, remains to be seen," he said.

Bagley said that the plan would create a multiuse stadium and that the team was flexible on site oversight.

While Bagley was working to smooth the way for a new $1 billion stadium, House lawmakers debated a plan to spend $449 million from the so-called Legacy fund. Voters approved the fund by setting aside proceeds from a sales tax increase for water, outdoors and arts projects.

On the House floor, the measure to divvy up the cash touched off a metro-vs.-outstate debate.

"At least 78 percent of the money will be spent on outstate Minnesota. At least," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis.

Rep. Dean Urhadl, a Grove City Republican, countered: "We have tried to be fair."

After four hours of discussion, the measure passed 86-45.

Guns, lawyers and money

The debate was even hotter when the House took up a gun-rights measure backers call the "Stand Your Ground" bill and opponents call the "Shoot First" bill.

"This bill is going to help murderers and endanger cops," said Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-St. Paul, an attorney. "It makes it almost impossible to convict people of murder."

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, the measure's sponsor, was asked why the bill was needed, since no Minnesota gun owners have been prosecuted for defending themselves.

"The gun owners and sportsmen didn't feel they had to wait for a body count," he said, adding that the law mirrors those in 20 other states and that those states are doing just fine.

The measure, which passed the House 79-50 and has yet to pass the Senate, faces a likely veto from Dayton, who has expressed serious concerns about it.

In the morning, the Senate moved to make it harder for Minnesotans to join class-action lawsuits. The provision was part of three lawsuit-retooling proposals the Senate approved Saturday.

"Minnesotans deserve swift justice, and a court system that encourages early and fair resolution of legal disputes," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen.

Under one proposed change, companies being sued for fraud or negligence could appeal the certification of class-action suits before racking up expensive legal fees.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park said the measure would "eviscerate Minnesota's consumer protection laws."

Another proposal shortens the deadline Minnesotans have to file lawsuits from a nation-leading six years to four years.

The House is moving similar proposals, which means they could land on Dayton's desk by May 23.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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