Bills proposed to ease burden of future state shutdowns

  • Article by: PATRICK CONDON , Associated Press
  • Updated: March 7, 2012 - 11:01 PM

At least half a dozen plans respond to the dysfunction of 2011.

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A closed sign marks the entrance to the Fort Snelling historic site, July 1, 2011 in Minneapolis after negotiations over the state budget between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton broke down and the government shutdown at midnight.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Minnesota lawmakers, stung by the embarrassment of last summer's government shutdown, are pushing numerous bills that would make future debacles of a similar nature less noticeable to the public.

A Senate committee approved four bills Tuesday to make future shutdowns less painful. Between those and several others moving through the Legislature, numerous state functions that went dark last summer, from state parks to lottery ticket sales to highway rest stops, would be spared.

"We're really hoping that this never happens again," Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said of the bitter budget feud between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders that ultimately triggered the longest state government shutdown in modern U.S. history. "I think it's good to have this discussion."

The debate in the Senate Finance Committee opened wounds from last year's partisan meltdown, which drew national attention and gave a black eye to a state that long has taken pride in responsible government and civic participation. Several DFL legislators worried that draining the pain from future shutdowns would make budget standoffs even more common.

"These bills are a reflection that the Legislature didn't do its job," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer. "It seems ridiculous to put the whole state on autopilot."

More than half a dozen shutdown-softening measures are under consideration. They include bills to: continue road construction projects and electrical inspections; leave state parks and campsites open, along with highway rest stops and the Minnesota Zoo; continue sales of Minnesota Lottery tickets; assure funding for Minnesota state colleges and universities, and maintain the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses.

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