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Lawmakers head back for disaster session

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators are returning to St. Paul today with a goal of appropriating $80 million to help communities hit by floods and tornadoes.

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Most of the money would go to southern Minnesotans who endured floods last month, but $6.6 million is set aside for Wadena and other areas affected by a June 17 tornado outbreak.

Legislative committee meetings throughout the morning were to culminate with a 1 p.m. special legislative session that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders said should be limited to nothing more than disaster response and should be finished later in the day.

Much of the funding is to match federal money that is to pay 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads to debris removal. There also are funds in the bill, which legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to last week, to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters, as well as tax breaks and deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

A broader federal program to help individuals affected by floods was not approved, but the still bill does target some money to individuals.

Some legislators have talked about passing other bills, primarily one getting tough on bullying in schools. However, legislative leaders frowned on that and pledged to limit the session to disaster relief.

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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.
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