ST. PAUL -- Key lawmakers have reached tentative agreements on several transportation and public safety issues, including tougher penalties for drunken driving and a requirement that children under 18 wear seatbelts in vehicles.
The co-chairmen of the House-Senate committee dealing with those issues struck a tentative deal early Friday morning and presented it to members of the panel mid-morning.
"We made very good headway," said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar.
But the full conference committee still has to approve the fragile deal -- some had voiced strong concerns in the first hour of meeting Friday -- and several issues remain totally unresolved.
Among the items that members of the panel already endorsed was a proposal to get tougher on people who are convicted of drunken driving multiple times.
That provision, approved unanimously, would make a fourth DWI offense in 10 years a felony, punishable by three to seven years in prison, depending on the chemical treatment counseling they received. It also would raise the surcharge for having a revoked driver's license reinstated from $40 this year to $145 next year and $380 in 2003.
"I think we should be proud of this proposal," said Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, a police officer. "It was a long time coming."
And the Minnesota State Patrol can breathe a little easier because the committee seemed receptive to spending the $4.3 million needed to fully fund two training academies for state troopers.
"I couldn't be happier," said Col. Anne Beers of the State Patrol. "This was about survival."
The DFL-controlled Senate had wanted to bring the State Patrol back to its full complement of 566. By the end of the year, the patrol will have about 42 vacancies. The GOP-controlled House had proposed putting 17 more troopers on the road. The Senate's position was the one in the tentative agreement.
Several other issues were likely to stir lengthy debates through Friday and possibly into early next week.
Johnson and Sen. Carol Molnau, DFL-Chaska, for instance, compromised on whether police should be able to pull people over for not wearing a seatbelt.
The proposal has gone through several incarnations, with the latest being that anyone under 18 anywhere in a car would be required to wear a seatbelt. A proposal to raise fines from $25 to $75 didn't make it into the provision.
And a measure that would have allowed police to use photographs to ticket drivers running red lights didn't make it into the bill, meaning it likely is dead for the year.
One major issue still on the table was racial profiling.
Negotiations on the issue broke down a couple of weeks ago, with representatives from the black community saying they felt disrespected and state officials objecting to a plan to force officers to hand out cards with their names, badge numbers and the number to a toll-free complaint line.
Stanek, the lead House negotiator, at the time called the end of debate "legislative terrorism" and planned to introduce another proposal Friday without the involvement of lead Senate negotiator Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis.
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