Minn. Proposals Seek to Avoid State Shutdowns, Raise Gambling Age, Fund State Insurance Pool

April 20, 2006

The Minnesota state House of Representatives is on track to approve a bill to fund the basic operations of state government, but several amendments attached to the proposal are being singled out for the most attention.

An Associated Press story reported that during an hours-long floor debate Tuesday, House members approved a measure aimed at avoiding future state government shutdowns like the one last summer; increasing the state gambling age from 18 to 19; and creating a statewide health insurance pool for Minnesota school employees.

Before taking a final vote the House tabled the measure, waiting to see what action the Senate takes on state government financing. The three measures mentioned above would still have to be approved by the Senate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to become law.

State government spending would automatically continue at basic levels into the new fiscal year even if legislators are in a budget impasse like last year. “This is the most direct way of avoiding a government shutdown,” said Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover.

Most states already do it this way, but not Minnesota, which is what forced last summer’s government shutdown. Opponents said it would remove the major incentive for lawmakers to finish the year’s work in a timely way, but the measure passed 76-56.

It did include a provision that would simultaneously dock the pay of lawmakers if they don’t set the state budget by July 1 of odd-numbered years. The Senate has yet to approve a companion measure.

Sponsors of the gambling-age increase raised concerns about gambling among high school seniors, and were able to get wide support for raising the minimum age from 18 to 19 for horse racing, the lottery and pulltabs.

“Let’s get gambling out of the high schools,” said Rep. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township.

But it would only become effective if all 11 tribal governments agreed to impose it in their casinos. It wasn’t immediately clear if all 11 tribes would be willing.

“I think there are some tribes that might consider it,” said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. “I don’t think anybody is getting rich off of 18-year-olds.”

The Senate has not approved a gambling-age increase.

The statewide health insurance pool is the result of efforts by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, to help small school districts that struggle to provide employee health care.

About 25 of the state’s largest school districts, including Minneapolis, St. Paul and many suburban districts, will be able to stay out of the pool under an exemption for districts with more than 400 teachers.

The state Senate passed similar legislation last week, without the large-district exemption.

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