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Pawlenty signs tougher seat belt law, vetoes medical pot, votinig, elections bills

Pawlenty signs tougher seat belt law

Starting June 9, Minnesota motorists can be ticketed just for not wearing a seat belt.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has signed a bill that allows police to pull over drivers solely because they or their passengers are not wearing seat belts.

Currently, officers must spot another traffic violation before they can stop a vehicle and ticket someone for not being strapped in. The new law carries a $25 fine.

And although he had expressed some concern with how the Legislature wanted to allocate Legacy Amendment money, Pawlenty signed the legislation with just one, $200,000 line-item veto.

Last November Minnesota voters approved an amendment increasing the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent for 25 years. The money goes for the outdoors, water resources, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage.

Pawlenty vetoes medical marijuana bill

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical use of marijuana for terminally ill patients.

In his veto message, Pawlenty says he is "very sympathetic to those dealing with end-of-life illnesses and accompanying pain."

But the governor repeated that he shares law enforcement concerns about expanded drug use.

Pawlenty notes that the bill would have allowed marijuana to be produced and distributed for medical purposes without any federal oversight.

Drivers won't get automatic voter registration

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Friday vetoed a bill that would have automatically signed up Minnesota driver's license applicants to vote.

The move means those applying for or renewing driver's licenses and state-issued IDs will still have to check a box to register to vote, instead of being automatically enrolled as voters if they were eligible.

"Registering to vote should be a voluntary, intentional act," the Republican governor's veto message said.

The change was pushed by Democrats including Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who said it would have streamlined bureaucracy for voters and saved time and money for local governments that process voter registrations. Ritchie claimed it would cut the number of Election Day registrations by as much as 75 percent.

A spokesman for Ritchie said neither Ritchie nor his staff were available to comment.

Rep. Steve Simon, the bill's House sponsor, said it also would have improved the integrity of Minnesota's voter records by giving Ritchie's office access to Social Security death records and requiring more extensive reporting from the state Department of Corrections on felons who aren't allowed to vote.

He said the changes would have minimized improprieties by ideologically motivated organizations that register voters.

"I wish some of this other stuff hadn't been vetoed," said Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park.

Pawlenty also on Friday vetoed another election bill that would have moved the primary election up a month to August and required elections officials to contact absentee voters whose ballots are rejected, giving them a chance to correct the problem.

Wente laid off

The rough spot in the economy that has forced many newspapers to lay off workers visited the Forum Communications Co. Minnesota Capitol Bureau.

Scott Wente no longer is with the bureau after his job was eliminated for economic reasons.

He only has been in the bureau full time since 2006, but a media blogger recently called him a seasoned veteran. He covered five legislative sessions for Forum papers. Wente became a year-round Capitol reporter starting in 2006 after covering two sessions for the Red Wing Republican Eagle.

During the 2006 gubernatorial race, Wente reported that Democratic candidate Mike Hatch called him a "Republican whore." Hatch at first denied using the word, then later said he might have. The story crystallized concerns about Hatch's temperamen,t and he went on to lose the election to Republican Tim Pawlenty.

Capitol Bureau Chief Don Davis said Wente's position was eliminated as a cost-cutting measure. Davis said the company will miss Wente's talent.

Legislative liaison

Gov. Tim Pawlenty tapped a former lawmaker to be his legislative liaison after a rocky session.

The governor's office announced the hire of former state Rep. Chris DeLaForest on Friday. He will replace Laura Bordelon as director of legislative and cabinet affairs starting June 22.

Pawlenty also promoted his director of boards and commissions, Annie Paruccini, to director of the state's federal office in Washington, replacing Jason Rohloff. A deputy director position will be cut in Washington, so that office will have one employee instead of two starting July 1.

Spokesman Brian McClung said the moves fit into state hiring restrictions Pawlenty ordered in February 2008 and his calls for local governments to streamline and freeze employee pay.

"Filling three positions with two people, as the governor's office announced today, is an example of the type of streamlining that the Governor has suggested other units of government undertake," McClung said in an e-mail.

McClung said the governor's staff is also subject to a pay freeze.

DeLaForest is a Republican who represented Andover and Ham Lake in the Minnesota House from 2003 until this year's Legislature was sworn in. Bordelon's current salary is $87,196 a year, but McClung couldn't immediately say whether DeLaForest would be paid the same amount.