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AUSTIN EDITION COL Clearing up same-sex marriage matters

Looking back on my work from the past year, it came to my attention that it was exactly one year ago this week that I wrote nearly the same column I am submitting today.

Last year at this time, we were at the peak of the legislative session, tackling budget-balancing bills and bonding requests that ultimately failed when time ran out on the session.

Today, we face much the same situation -- it's mid-April, and we are bumping up against committee deadlines and the public's demand that we right the wrongs of last year and finish our work before the May 23 deadline.

Unfortunately, like last year, I cannot use this space to tell you about the progress we are making toward this end goal.

The Senate began presenting its budget proposals for things like education, health care and transportation this week.

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But instead of filling you in on how we will fund these issues, issues that affect each and every person in our district, I am forced to use this space to once again correct misinformation and exaggerations being circulated on one subject: same-sex marriage.

This topic has dominated the news in recent weeks and, understandably, has become quite confusing in the minds of many voters.

Adding to this confusion are recent advertisements created by special-interest groups, which have turned this emotional issue into a political weapon by twisting the facts and spreading false information. I believe the people of Minnesota deserve better, and I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

To be clear, it is my firm belief that the definition of marriage is "one man, one woman."

I have not voted in favor of any legislation that would allow same-sex marriage in Minnesota, nor do I plan to do so. In fact, there is not a single bill being discussed in the Legislature that would allow same-sex marriage to be recognized in this state.

What is being discussed is whether an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman should be added to the Minnesota Constitution.

I have never taken a single vote on this bill. What I did vote on, and what is being misinterpreted in the ads you're hearing, was a procedural motion that would have pulled this bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor for a vote.

I voted no on this motion, but that in no way represented a vote on the merits of the marriage amendment bill. It was a vote on the merits of allowing full public testimony, discussion and debate on the issue.

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Bringing major legislation up for unannounced votes on the Senate floor without the chance for a hearing and public testimony wrongly shuts the public out of the political process.

The advertisements you are hearing also assert that this vote to keep the bill in committee is a political move to kill the issue. This is another false accusation. Minnesota law requires all constitutional amendment proposals to be placed on general-election ballots.

That means that even if this bill was heard and passed tomorrow, the earliest that voters could vote on the measure is November 2006.

The Senate has promised to hear this bill in committee this year or next, we have promised a vote on the issue, and I promise to continue to listen to my constituents' opinions until the time comes to cast my vote. But we have an entire year to address this issue, which is why I did not believe it was proper to interrupt all Senate business to take up an issue that, frankly, has no urgency.

Last month, 4,000 people came to the Capitol to tell us schools are struggling to survive. Hundreds more have lobbied legislators for help after having health-care benefits cut or after watching insurance costs skyrocket out of reach.

And I have received dozens of letters about the poor quality of roads in District 27 alone. Failure to address these issues this year poses a very real threat to every resident of Minnesota who enjoys the quality of life we have.

I sincerely hope that we can move beyond the politics of distraction and really focus on addressing the truly pressing work of this session.

Committees are virtually done meeting for the year, which means legislative activity will become very hectic in the coming weeks.

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Sparks can be reached at (651) 296-9248 or (507) 438-2898; G-24 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155; or by e-mail at sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn.

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