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DFL leaves out sex offender program

ST. PAUL - A public works bill appears headed to legislative passage that spends far more than Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants and leaves out some key provisions, including an $89 million sex offender treatment center expansion.

The nearly $1 billion bill, funded by the state selling bonds, is not acceptable to Pawlenty, his spokesman said today. However, Brian McClung refused to say if Pawlenty would veto the entire bill or erase enough projects to make the bill's size acceptable.

McClung complained that the measure has funds for sports projects, such as ones in Moorhead and Rochester, and trails across the state, but not for public safety needs such as the Moose Lake sex offender treatment center and improving security around the state's highest-security prison at Oak Park Heights.

The conference committee wrapped up bonding bill work this morning, with House and Senate votes expected tonight. Democratic leaders, who control the Legislature, promised to pass the bill this month.

Instead of the Moose Lake funding, the final bill includes a provision that would order an extensive study about the need for more facilities and, more basically, whether existing sex offender laws should be changed.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said lawmakers need to look into funding the sex offender facility yet this year, including how proposed changes in prison sentences for sex offenders could affect the need to expand the Moose Lake facility. McClung also mentioned that a second bonding bill could allow for Moose Lake funding.

Langseth, who heads the Senate public works funding committee, said he had trouble with the Pawlenty administration wanting to spend $61 million out of the $89 million for a new kitchen and meeting rooms. That is too costly, he said, and he is not convinced the entire $89 million is needed.

"We are going to do something," Langseth said about Moose Lake.

The Moose Lake facility holds sex offenders who have ended their prison sentences, but judges have deemed too dangerous to release into society.

Also in the bonding bill is a provision designed to help protect communities downstream from a proposed Fargo-Moorhead Red River flood diversion project.

The compromise allows the state to spend money on a diversion as proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after April 1, 2012, or when a plan to prevent downstream damage has been implemented. The protection plan must ensure that the diversion does not make downstream flooding worse.

Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, got the House to amend the public works bill, also known as the bonding bill, to forbid any state spending on the diversion unless the federal government agreed to prevent downstream problems. Langseth said the compromise essentially does the same thing as the Eken amendment.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.