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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Lawmakers give Dill a hearty welcome back

ST. PAUL -- It is not often that when a legislator walks into the room, his colleague stand and applaud.

But when David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, walked into the House chambers during the recent special session, that is just what happened. A couple of legislators in the back of the chamber noticed him slip in a side door, and started clapping. Soon, all 130 other lawmakers, not to mention staff, in the chamber joined in the applause.

Dill had received a kidney transplant less than a week earlier. And although he looked frail, he walked on his own to his desk at the front of the chamber.

"Thank you for being such a good family," he said when House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher asked him to talk.

Dill said several people around the Capitol offered to donate kidneys, including a lobbyist. But, he joked, that would have been illegal because it would be a gift "of something of value," violating ethics laws.

Turning serious, he said that he accepted the offer of a 40 Orr man.

Dille said he was surprised to be able to return to the Capitol so soon after the transplant, calling it "a true marvel of science."

Flood fighting

Days after the Minnesota Legislature approved spending flood recovery and prevention money, the state Department of Transportation announced it is launching a $50 million program to make roadways more resistant to floods.

The program will be funded with $10 million in each of the next five years.

Examples of what the department plans include repairing culverts and improving drainage along roads.

Not just a job

Mayor Alan VanDeWalker of Zumbro Falls was in the Capitol pleading for flood-recovery aid.

Tears came to his eyes when he talked about how devastating last month's flood was to his tiny community.

Those listening realized that the long-time mayor takes his job seriously when he described himself: "Pipefitter by trade, mayor by heart."

Ag assistance

Farmers affected by floods can set some state help.

The recent special legislative session appropriated $4 million to help those farmers. The aid comes in the form of loans for expenses not covered by insurance, expenses such as cleaning up as well as repairing and replacing of buildings and water and septic systems.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said the aid also can be used to replace seed, feed and other items.

A loan can be given for less than half of the value of the damage, up to $50,000.

Juhnke also praised lawmakers for passing funds to repair flood-damaged roads.

"We are in the peak of harvest time, and our farmers and livestock producers need sturdy and dependable roads to get their products to market," said Juhnke, the House agriculture committee chairman. "This bill provides funding for the rebuilding of county and township roads that were washed out in the recent floods."

E85 use rises

Minnesota state agencies continue to increase their use of E85, a fuel that is 85 percent corn-based ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

In the first nine months of the year, agencies bought 725,000 gallons of E85, compared to 73,000 gallons in the same period in 2005.

"Nearly one of every five gallons of fuel that state agencies buy from retailers today is E85," Administration Commissioner Sheila Reger said. "That's a remarkable increase from just five years ago that is helping state government reduce its dependence on petroleum fuels."

State workers drive about 2,500 cars, pickup trucks and vans that can use E85.

'Good investment'

Minnesota's investment in preventing floods over the past several years has saved money, according to the senator in charge of such projects.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said that in the past two years alone lawmakers have approved investing $138 million to prevent floods in the Red River Valley and other flood-prone parts of the state.

"Officials from the Department of Natural Resources estimate that every dollar we invest in flood mitigation returns five dollars in savings from flood damage protection," said Langseth, chairman of the Senate committee responsible for picking public works projects.

A bill passed in the recent special legislative session included $26 million in such public works projects that will be funded by the state selling bonds.

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.