ST. PAUL -- Backed by the pledge that they're needed to battle terrorism, a host of previously ignored projects are taking on a fresh shine just in time for the coming legislative session.
The wish list ranges from a long-sought health laboratory, which Gov. Jesse Ventura says is needed now to fight bioterrorism, to increased money to research diseases in farm animals. That idea is intended to protect the food supply.
The calls for such projects are partly the result of prudence, spurred by an awakened sense of the havoc terrorism can wreak.
But observers say some requests this session are also partly due to clever packaging by their backers.
"There's no question that people are smart enough to figure out that homeland security-related issues are probably the only thing that's going to get any new funding," said Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver, who has recently taken on the additional title of state director of homeland security.
"People will be very creative in how they package their proposals this session," he said. "I wouldn't be too surprised to see the Minnesota Zoo and the Guthrie Theater become a homeland security issue."
Republicans who control the House and Democrats who control the Senate have offered their own lists of needs to prepare for terrorism. Leaders of each side said they're prepared to spend more than $20 million from the general treasury in their efforts, a veritable funding splurge in what is expected to be a session defined by program cuts.
For his part, Ventura has suggested a host of policy changes he will seek and plans to unveil a more detailed proposal, with a price tag, soon.
The Independence Party governor's ideas range from imposing new hurdles on people trying to get state identification cards to shielding some information from the public that might be helpful to terrorists.
Democrats and Republicans would spend most of the money on equipment and training for first-line emergency workers.
They would also restore three hazardous-materials teams that were eliminated in the last session of the Legislature. The teams, in Duluth, Moorhead and Rochester, were downgraded to a lower response level. Now, the only top-level team is in St. Paul.
Also on the Democrats' list is a plan to upgrade the radio systems for police and emergency workers across the Twin Cities area. They would all be able to communicate on frequencies in the 800 megahertz bandwidth.
Police, who have sought the new system for several years, tell stories of those without the advanced systems having difficulty communicating with units from other departments. At major fire or accident scenes now, they say, it's not unusual to have an on-scene dispatcher charged with monitoring four or more different radio systems to try to get messages from one squad to another.
Overall, the Democratic plan would cost $24 million in addition to a phone tax increase of 22 cents that would raise $5 million per year. Experts say extending that system statewide would cost hundreds of millions more.
All those requests fall squarely in the area that the general public would consider anti-terrorism needs, said Nyle Zikmund, the fire chief in Spring Lake Park.
He said other groups, however, have sought to join so-called first responders in an ad hoc coalition seeking money for terrorism preparedness this session.
Some have been turned away.
"We're not being rude, but we're the first line," Zikmund said. "We're going to be on the scene first and we've got to resolve our issues first."
He points to efforts to seek more funds for poison control programs as an example of a request that, while easy to define broadly under the term terrorism preparedness, might not have the same urgency as new gas masks for firefighters.
Some groups are stretching the definition of anti-terrorism efforts to include whatever benefits the society as a whole.
Under that theory, Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Council, is calling for tax increases to sustain government spending on social programs.
"There's a broad domestic definition of what security is and we need to speak to that," he said.
Other interests that have cited terrorism preparedness at least in part in pitches to lawmakers for funding this year include.
-- The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, protesting a Ventura proposal to cut funding to shelters, said funding should be restored to "help women fight terror in the home."
-- Mental health counselors, who note that requests for their services spiked following the attacks.
-- Ethanol backers, who recently protested a proposed cut in the state's subsidy for the fuel, saying it would endanger America's defense by making the nation more dependent on foreign oil.
-- Agriculture lawmakers, saying the state needs more money for research into animal diseases in case terrorists try to target the food supply.
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