Tricounty News

Week in review: Feb. 2-6

Earlier this week, the House and Senate finalized locations across the state for town hall-style hearings on Governor Tim Pawlenty's proposed 2010-11 budget. The Governor also unofficially announced this week something that we have been expecting: The current $4.8 billion state spending deficit could easily creep up to $7 billion in the updated forecast set for release on March 3. Meetings will be held in Albert Lea, Alexandria, Bemidji, Bloomington, Brainerd, Burnsville, Coon Rapids, Duluth, Forest Lake, Little Falls, Mankato, Marshall, Minneapolis, Moorhead (Senate Tax Committee), Plymouth, Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Virginia, White Bear Lake, Willmar, Winona, Woodbury and Worthington. Dates, times and exact locations of the hearings are also available on the Web site. Anyone who wants to voice an opinion must sign up on the legislative Web sites or . Slots are limited and filling up fast, so I encourage you to sign up soon. The purpose of these joint Senate-House meetings is to take comments and concerns from Minnesotans like you, but it is likely that the meetings will be loaded with special-interest groups attacking the Governor's plan and pleading with the state to expand funding for their programs at the cost of others. We need to make a good showing to represent hard-working regular Minnesotans who cannot shoulder a heavier tax burden. Inattentive driving A Senate committee passed a bill this week addressing the subject of inattentive driving and setting penalties for drivers who cause damage or injury to others. A maximum penalty of a gross misdemeanor would be assessed at the time of an incident, but an officer could not stop a driver under this charge. The author told the committee that the law was needed because drivers currently can only be cited for failing to exercise reasonable care if they're speeding or qualify as reckless driving. Medical marijuana The question of whether the state should sanction the use of marijuana for medical use is being heard again this year. This week the Senate Committee on Health, Housing and Family Security passed the measure despite opponents who made the case that it was a gateway drug which easily led users down the road to even more devastating narcotics. Among those testifying against the idea were law enforcement personnel. The idea has bipartisan support among lawmakers, but faces two obstacles. Governor Pawlenty continues to oppose the plan, and Minnesotans participating in medical-marijuana usage would be breaking federal narcotics laws. Health care You may be interested to know that a plan to create a no-strings-attached universal public health care system in Minnesota is making its way through the Senate, passing a second committee this week. Sponsored by gubernatorial candidate Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville), the measure would eliminate insurance companies and create a single statewide plan covering all Minnesotans for all medical needs, with patients being able to see the medical providers of their choice. Coverage would not be attached to employers. The plan would be funded, the Web site says, "by all Minnesotans, based on the ability to pay, and would cover all health-care costs, replacing all premiums currently paid by employees and employers, as well as all co-payments, deductibles, all payments for care by the uninsured or under-insured and all costs of government health care programs." If you are concerned by or interested in this bill, you can find more about Senate File 118 online at Senator Michelle Fischbach is serving in her fifth term in the Minnesota Senate. She encourages and appreciates constituent input and can be reached at (651) 296-2084, by mail to 145 State Office Building / St. Paul MN 55155, or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .