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Rural lawmakers retain key positions

ST. PAUL - More than a dozen rural Minnesota lawmakers are among House Democrats named committee chairs for the next legislative session.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party majority reduced the number of committees from 42 to 36 and is placing a greater emphasis on oversight of state agencies and programs.

"Minnesotans have been very clear they want to see more transparency and accountability in state government," House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said Friday.

Chairmanships are prized because they give lawmakers broad authority to decide what legislation is - and is not - heard in committee.

Many of the high-profile chairmanships dealing with budget decisions did not change. Northeastern and western Minnesota lawmakers will lead key finance and tax committees in the 2008-09 Legislature.

Democrats added a panel to oversee finances related to the constitutional amendment voters passed in November dedicating a sales tax increase to the outdoors and arts.

Veteran Representative Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, will lead the Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Committee. She said it will consider the types of projects that will be funded with the tax revenue.

"This is something that is supposed to go for a generation and the decisions that we will make form what happens for generations to come," Murphy said.

Republicans have criticized the DFL for adding committees after the party took control of the House in 2007.

Rules and finance committee chairs include:

• Majority Leader Tony Sertich, Chisholm: Rules and Legislative Administration

• Loren Solberg, Grand Rapids: Ways and Means

• Paul Marquart, Dilworth: Property and Local Sales Tax Division

• Al Juhnke, Willmar: Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance

• Bill Hilty, Finlayson: Energy Finance and Policy

• Tom Rukavina, Virginia: Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy

• Tom Huntley, Duluth: Health Care and Human Services Finance

• Mary Murphy, Hermantown: Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance

• Bernie Lieder, Crookston: Transportation Finance and Policy

Policy committee chairs include:

• Mary Ellen Otremba, Long Prairie: Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs

• Lyle Koenen, Clara City: Veterans Affairs Division

• Kent Eken, Twin Valley: Environment Policy and Oversight

• David Dill, Crane Lake: Game, Fish and Forestry Division