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Dayton OK's 4 budget bills including higher ed, health and human services

Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday gave final approval to four budget bills, leaving just three to be decided by the weekend. 

Dayton signed budget bills for health and human services, higher education, transportation and public safety and judiciary. Still pending for his approval or rejection are budget measures for state government operations, agriculture and environment and a jobs bill that was rammed through in the Legislature's last hour. 

The DFL governor on Thursday vetoed the education budget bill, setting up a forthcoming special session in June.

Of the four signed Friday, the health and human services budget is the largest and it represents the second most expensive part of the state government. The Legislature passed a two-year budget of $12 billion, which includes $138 million in new money for nursing home workers, which was a priority of House Republicans.

Democrats fought an attempt by Republicans to eliminate MinnesotaCare, a public health insurance program for the working poor, although legislators agreed to allocate $500,000 for a task force to study changes to the program before its funding source sunsets in a few years.

The public safety and judiciary bill included an additional $111 million in spending for courts and public safety, and a measure legalizing firearm suppressors — more commonly known as “silencers."

The public safety deal includes pay raises for judges, more staffing for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and funding to combat sex trafficking and prevent recruitment of Minnesotans to terror organizations like ISIL and Al-Shabab.

A push to restore voting rights to felons after they are released from incarceration did not make it in the final bill. The House and Senate toughened drunken driving laws. They compromised on Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR), allowing law enforcement to store data gleaned from the devices for 60 days. 

The higher education budget includes $166 million in new spending, with $53 million for the University of Minnesota. Of that, $30 million will go toward the U's Medical School. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System received $100 million in the budget the Legislature approved.

The bare-bones transportation measure was a "lights-on" bill. Legislators said they plan to pick up debate on a more robust budget next year. 

Staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.

Activist Peggy Flanagan running for soon-to-be-vacant House seat

Peggy Flanagan, a DFL activist and executive director of the Children's Defense Fund - Minnesota, said in a statement Friday she is running for the House seat soon to be vacated by Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. 

Flanagan, 35, is a longtime progressive activist, working on efforts to raise the state's minimum wage. She has also worked for eight years at Wellstone Action, a liberal advocacy group. In 2012, she directed community outreach efforts for Minnesotans United for all Families, a coalition that led the successful push for same-sex marriage. 

A St. Louis Park resident most of her life, Flanagan said in a statement she is running to "give back" to her community.

“I want every child and every family in our district to have the kind of high-quality education, opportunity for early learning, and ability to thrive that I did," Flanagan said. 

Brian Shekleton, policy aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, also said Thursday that he is interested in running for the seat, which is in a safe DFL district covering Golden Valley, Medicine Lake, Plymouth and St. Louis Park.

Photo: Peggy Flanagan spoke Monday at a press conference where Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges unveiled her Cradle to K Cabinet's final recommendations for improving the lives of very young Minneapolis children and their families. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune)

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