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Capitol Chatter: Attention set to turn to state government reform in 2012

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The new year could be one of government reform.

Minnesota legislative Republicans and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton agree reforming is a top priority, but they may differ on just what that means and how to get there.

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A year ago, the two sides said the same thing, but a big money debate got in the way. By necessity, legislators and Dayton had to concentrate on plugging a $5 billion hole in the state budget.

With a slight budget surplus heading into the 2012 legislative session, which begins Jan. 24, state leaders hope they can find ways to make government more efficient.

"We can actually reform for the sake of reform and not reform for the sake of balancing the budget," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

An outside observer thinks it can happen. "I think they are more likely to than they did last year," Professor Paula O'Loughlin of the University of Minnesota Morris said.

Dayton fears that Republicans define government reform only as "cutting state spending," so appears somewhat reserved in his optimism.

It is not clear what reforms could come forward, but both sides like to point to a couple of agreements early last year: speeding environmental permits and making it easier for mid-career professionals to get teacher licenses.

If tax reform is to be part of the mix, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said it is so complex that work needs to begin now.

"If they are at all interested in doing anything on tax reform ... I don't believe you can wait until Jan. 24 to have your first hearing," Bakk said. "There are quite a few things that have to be done."

He said a Vikings football stadium hearing took a month to organize, and changing tax laws would be even more complex.

"There is only so much you can do in a 10-week session," Bakk said.

Lottery money plans

The Minnesota Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources wants to hear ideas about how lottery money should be spent.

Seven percent of money spent on the Minnesota State Lottery goes into the Environment and Natural Resources Fund, which is used on projects across the state.

Proposals are due by April 6, with more information at www.lccmr.leg.mn.

About $31 million is expected to be available in the next year for projects such as those that protect the state's natural resources enhance public education about the outdoors and preserve fish and wildlife.

ACLU zaps Tasers

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota says law enforcement departments need to adopt uniform policies for when Tasers may be used.

After a statewide study, the ACLU claims that policies about Taser use vary widely across the state.

While a state policy is needed about when the electronic weapons may be used, each department also should have its own policy that accounts for dangers such as the risk of falling after being shot, the group says.

The ACLU wants each Taser use to be reported to the state.

"The recommendations we make pose a minimal cost to law enforcement agencies, would be fairly easy to implement, and would provide an important management tool;" said Chuck Samuelson of the ACLU-MN. "These are common sense recommendations that make good public policy that we hope starts a state-wide conversation about this newer weapon."

Signs protected

The Minnesota Department of Transportation says that vandalizing roadway signs or other state property along highways can carry a fine of up to $3,000 and a year in jail.

Shooting, vandalizing and stealing signs are illegal, as is attaching objects to signs and posts.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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