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Tax bill rolls through the House

ST. PAUL -- School teachers, combat veterans and parents of college students are on their way to simpler filing and savings as tax time nears. Thanks to a bill that sailed through choppy waters in the Minnesota House on Thursday, those people wil...

ST. PAUL -- School teachers, combat veterans and parents of college students are on their way to simpler filing and savings as tax time nears.

Thanks to a bill that sailed through choppy waters in the Minnesota House on Thursday, those people will likely be spared the additional paperwork created by changes on the federal level.

The legislation allows Minnesota's income tax to conform to several federal changes. Under the bill, higher education tuition and teacher classroom expenses can be deducted through the state system. Individual retirement account contributions by military members with income primarily from nontaxable combat pay will also be allowed in the bill.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Wollschlager, DFL-Cannon Falls, could be the first signed into law this legislative session, and could be voted on as early as Tuesday in the Senate. The House passed it 132-0.

Despite the apparently clear path to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk, the bill was hung up for about three hours -- it was expected to pass in minutes -- Thursday as House Republicans attempted to amend it. Rhetoric flared as Republicans issued several failed amendments to the bill -- most seeking tax relief.

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"Let the food fight begin," House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, declared during debate in what was a peaceful session for a week.

He parried with House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, as amendment after amendment made its way to the House. Those efforts weren't just ceremonial, Seifert said later; Republicans were just trying to punch up what they already considered strong legislation.

"I don't think people should read into it too much -- that we had some improvements," he said.

Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, said the Republicans were basically hazing a freshman legislator. Regardless, Wollschlager said she was glad to stand up to the test.

"I think it was an opportunity for me to earn respect," she said. "As a new person, they want to see what I'm made of."

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