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Legislative notebook: New gun bill would do less than earlier bills

ST. PAUL -- The author of a new gun bill says she wrote it as a compromise, but those who already have related bills are not buying it.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, on Wednesday announced a bill that falls short of what the Legislature’s judiciary chairmen plan to discuss in committees next week. Hilstrom said she has no promise that her bill will be discussed in a committee.

The Hilstrom bill does not require all buyers of handguns or semi-automatic rifles to undergo background checks, as the chairmen’s bills do.

Hilstrom supporters say her bill would close loopholes in existing law that allow Minnesotans, such as dangerous mentally ill people, to get guns even if they are not supposed to.

Surrounded by a mostly Republican cadre of legislators, the suburban Democratic representative said her plan has 73 co-sponsors in the 134-member House.

House and Senate judiciary committee chairman who plan to bring their own gun plans up for committee votes by the end of next week said they do not plan to change their bills.

No bill moving ahead includes the most controversial gun-control provisions: banning so-called assault rifles and large-capacity bullet magazines.

“This is the only bill that protects Second Amendment rights” to own guns, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said in support of the Hilstrom proposal.

The National Rifle Association supports the Hilstrom measure.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said senators are discussing a similar bill.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said he thinks the Hilstrom bill should receive support from his northwestern Minnesota constituents.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he is disappointed background checks for all gun sales were not included in the proposal.

Ag bill stalls

The normally noncontroversial agriculture funding bill came to a screeching halt Wednesday in a House committee.

Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, joined Republicans on the House Agriculture Policy Committee in an 8-8 vote, which stalled the bill.

The action came after committee members raise a couple of questions.

Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, questioned if $2.3 million in bovine tuberculosis funding needs to continue even though the state has been declared TB free.

Greta Gauthier of the Agriculture Department said the funding would be used for Board of Animal Health’s general needs.

Faust was uncomfortable with that lack of specificity: “I guess my opinion is, that’s about a 40, maybe a 45 percent, increase in funding then that they get to just decide what they want to. And I think that’s a pretty significant increase for the dollars that we’re talking about, for us not to at least have an idea where it’s going.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake,  asked if the committee would guarantee that money in an agriculture fund continue to be used for farm programs.

Hamilton said his attempt was declared out of order by Chairwoman Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin.

A series of 8-8 votes ended with the bill’s defeat. However, it could be resurrected as a stand-alone bill or be amended onto another bill.

“That surprised me,” Hamilton said about the funding bill’s defeat.

Agriculture funding traditionally has been nonpartisan and two years ago it was the only budget bill that passed before a Democrat-Republican standoff caused a state government shutdown.

Don Davis and Danielle Killey write for the Forum News Service. John Meyers of the Duluth News Tribune and the Minnesota House Public Information Office contributed to this report.

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