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Eminent domain passes overwhelmingly

ST. PAUL -- Governments soon will be restricted from taking private land if Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs eminent domain changes as expected.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday to make sure governments, especially cities, cannot take private land and sell it to private developers.

On a 56-9 vote, with mostly urban Democrats against it, senators gave final approval to the bill.

The House voted 115-17, with Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the only rural lawmaker opposing it. The long-time mayor said the bill takes away too much city authority.

Legislators plodded through other bills, but no progress was reported on major bills that await action before they adjourn for the year, probably at the end of this week.

Eminent domain is a government power that some lawmakers say has been abused by governments that take land and sell it to private developments for businesses and similar uses.

"Right now they have all the power," Sen. Thomas Bakk, DFL-Cook, said of cities that use eminent domain.

Bakk and other supporters said the bill is not perfect.

"I do see some holes in it yet," Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said. "I do think we are going to have to do some major or minor tweaking in the future."

State law allows governments to take land for "public use." Bakk said most people think that public use means parks, roads, public buildings and similar developments. Bakk said the public doesn't want governments taking land so businesses can expand.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said once the bill becomes law, it will force development to occur outside a city, in areas that now are green spaces such as undeveloped and agriculture areas.

The bill requires governments to take more steps -- in public -- before land is taken.

It also requires governments to pay some land owners' attorney fees and to adequately compensate people whose land is taken or whose businesses are adversely affected by eminent domain.

Governments still can take land, but not "just because a city planner has a different idea of what a corner should look like," Bakk said.

Also Monday, the Senate passed 39-27 a variety of education changes, including one that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay resident tuition at state-run colleges and universities.

Many Republicans did not like that provision, known as the "dream act."

"They will end up with a four-year college degree and still not be able to work in the state of Minnesota because they still will be here illegally," Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said.

Tongue in cheek, Ruud wondered why only illegal immigrants got special treatment: "We shouldn't punish people whose parents decided they should grow up in Iowa or Wisconsin, either, folks."

State schools charge students from other states higher tuition than Minnesotans.

Also in the bill is a requirement that schools hold drills for lock-downs, such as would occur during a school shooting.

A conference committee negotiating professional stadium construction projects on Monday heard a Vikings official say he would suggest saving $115 million by not building a roof on a proposed Anoka County stadium.

However, county officials said they will fight for a roof.

There were no negotiations Monday on the legislative session's prime topic -- funding public works projects around the state.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said he won't call another meeting until House negotiators give him "a serious offer."

Senators have given up $91 million of their proposed projects so far in negotiations. Langseth said the House has not moved much.

Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, said Langseth is making too much out of House-Senate differences. "We're not that far apart if they look closely."

House and Senate negotiators have agreed to spend nearly $1 billion, $949 million to be repaid by general tax money. However, they have struggled to decide exactly what projects will be funded.

Also Monday, the House approved 126-4 a measure supporters said will help ensure that rural Minnesotans will get flu vaccines at the same time as citizens in the Twin Cities. It would delay the beginning of "mass flu clinics" for most citizens until rural Minnesota health care providers also have the shots, bill sponsor Rep. Bud Heidgerken said.

Heidgerken, R-Freeport, said large-chain pharmacies and grocery stores - primarily in the Twin Cities - have stockpiled the vaccine before rural clinics can get any.

R-E reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

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.