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CAPITOL NOTEBOOK - Gleams at Stanley Cup

It was hard to tell which was gleaming more, the governor or the Stanley Cup he helped escort into his reception room Tuesday.

"This is Lord Stanley's cup, the Holy Grail of professional hockey," Gov. Tim Pawlenty marveled after an attendant carefully set down the trophy.

Pawlenty, 42, an enthusiastic amateur player, used the forum to declare May as Minnesota Wild Month in honor of the 3-year-old expansion team's advancement to the Western Conference finals.

He also employed a hockey metaphor to give a forecheck to lawmakers who have until Monday to agree on how to fill a $4.2 billion budget deficit.

"Overtime in hockey is OK," he said. "Overtime on the taxpayer's dime is not." He said he's inclined to call a special session immediately if lawmakers fail to reach agreement by midnight Monday.

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-- Associated Press

Rest areas will remain open

Driver's should be able to uncross their legs, for now.

Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau is setting aside a plan to close some rest areas on rural roads.

Molnau, also the state transportation commissioner, presented a new proposal to the Legislature with an extra $2 million to keep all rest stops open until June 2004.

In the meantime, the Department of Transportation will explore other ways to fund them, she said, including allowing private businesses to run rest areas.

The administration's original plan would have closed 22 rest areas, most of them on roads in northern Minnesota.

The plan comes quite late in the budget process. The House and Senate already have passed their own plans. Molnau said in a statement she hopes the new plan guides negotiations between the approaches.

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-- Associated Press

Liability limits

The GOP-controlled House grabbed an opportunity Tuesday to force their counterparts in the DFL-dominated Senate to vote on giving more protection in civil lawsuits to those with deep pockets, but relatively small amounts of fault.

Because the provision was attached to a Senate bill, the House will send it back and force the Senate to take a straight up or down vote on the issue.

Under the measure, no party would have to pay more than its share of jury awards if it is less than 50 percent liable, in which case they could be forced to pay up to 100 percent.

The law now allows people or entities more than 15 percent at fault to be held responsible for many times that amount of the damages if the other parties can't pay.

Rep. Joseph Atkins, a DFLer from Inver Grove Heights, said the bill would protect places such as irresponsible bars.

"It's a great bill for bar owners who want to serve people who are absolutely schnockered," he said.

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That's because if a bar were to serve a patron too much alcohol, then that person drives drunk and injures someone, the driver might not have insurance. If the bar is only liable for a fraction of the amount, that leaves the injured person or his/her family without full compensation, Atkins said.

Rep. Bill Kuisle, R-Rochester, acknowledged that might not be fair but said the law as written isn't fair either.

"Should the bar owner pay for 100 percent of the damages when he's 40 percent at fault? No," Kuisle said.

-- Associated Press

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