ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesota prisoners shouldn't be saving room for dessert, says one state lawmaker who is pushing a bill to change the food rules for inmates.
Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said the state should stop serving dessert to save money in trying budget times. He also wants to serve fewer meals during the week by having weekend brunches. Inmates now are entitled to three regular meals a day all week, he said.
"I would much rather prioritize saving Meals on Wheels for our elderly than desserts and unneeded meals and portions for murderers, rapists and drug dealers," Seifert said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the proposal makes common sense. But, he added, "We do have a few other big fish to fry in the public policy arena."
The DFL and Republican leaders of the House and Senate met Thursday with Pawlenty on how to bring the budget debate to an orderly resolution by May 19.
They agreed to set their spending targets for each budget category -- higher education, corrections and the like -- within the next 10 days and clear up any differences soon after.
Pawlenty said he expects to hold similar meetings frequently until the budget problem is solved. Minnesota's has a projected $4.23 billion deficit.
After a short debate about the state's bond rating, the House approved a resolution Thursday that says the state shouldn't spend more than $26.5 billion for 2004-05.
The bill, which mirrors Pawlenty's budget proposal, says no money should be reserved for cash flow, but that $530 million should be held in reserves to buffer against a further downturn in the economy.
Pawlenty has proposed to erase a $4.2 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes and he has the backing of most members of the GOP-controlled House.
A divided Senate Education Committee gave its approval Thursday to a bill to rename the state schools agency the Department of Education.
The move to dump the Department of Children, Families and Learning name was initiated by Pawlenty, who has said the new name better recognizes the agency's core mission.
The change could cost as much as $39,000 because the agency would need to order stationery, buy signage and make changes to legal documents. Department officials hope to get some private contributions and reshuffle spending to pay for it.
Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, opposed the bill.
"You're not just changing the name," she said. "I'm very concerned about the direction."
Some child welfare and early childhood functions are being moved to other agencies under a reorganization plan Pawlenty recently announced.
The bill now goes to the Senate floor. The same bill is moving through the House.
The Minnesota Commerce Department decided late Wednesday not to seek a repeal of a state law that sets a minimum price for cigarettes.
The change in direction came after it became evident that the change would open the way for cut-rate pricing and make cigarettes more affordable for smokers, including price-conscious teens.
The department wanted to eliminate its small enforcement staff for the 40-year-old Unfair Cigarette Sales Act. But there would have been little, if any, budget savings because the staff is financed by fees paid by tobacco wholesalers -- fees that would be eliminated with repeal of the law.
Public health advocates, who argue for higher prices for cigarettes as a smoking deterrent, were puzzled by the department's proposal and caught off guard.
"The intent of this law is to make sure there is not unfair competition," said Matt Flory of the American Cancer Society. "But one of the effects is it drives prices up."
Agency spokesman Bruce Gordon said the department changed its plans after hearing from members of the retail industry who want the status quo and could challenge predatory pricing only through litigation if it were repealed.
Thomas Briant, executive director of the Minnesota Wholesale Marketers Association, estimated cigarette prices would decline by $3 to $4 per carton, or 30 to 40 cents per pack, if the law were repealed.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.