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CAPITOL NOTEBOOK -- Happenings at the Minnesota Capitol:

Terrorism bill

A wide-ranging bill aimed at combating terrorism passed a House law committee Wednesday after critics won a number of small changes to address civil liberties concerns.

Among other things, the plan would allow court-ordered monitoring to extend to cell phones and lets governments close meetings at which security concerns or emergency response plans are discussed.

One amendment added to the bill would forbid governments from closing meetings to discuss matters that involve the quarantine of individuals, medical testing or other health-related emergencies.

The House Civil Law committee also voted to eliminate a section of the bill that would force state colleges to report violations of the visa status of foreign students to the state attorney general. It now heads to the House Crime Committee, where it is expected to be considered the week of Feb. 18.

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Meanwhile, a House government committee, working on another part of the same bill, endorsed a provision to create tougher background checks for drivers who transport certain viruses, bacteria or other biological agents.

That provision also would require people or entities that possess biological agents to register with the state commissioner of health and show that they are adequately equipped to handle the materials.

A Teamsters representative said a proposed list of actions that could disqualify drivers from transporting hazardous materials was too broad. It includes things like defamation and having four moving violations in three years -- even on a personal car.

Fireworks fizzle

A plan to legalize fireworks sales in Minnesota failed in a Senate committee Wednesday on a tie 6-6 vote.

The bill died despite the backing of Gov. Jesse Ventura, who sent Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver to lobby on its behalf.

Bill sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, a Chisholm Democrat, said he may try again because at least one potential committee supporter was absent. But he noted chances for the bill in the Senate are slim in a session crammed with other pressing issues.

The bill would have allowed businesses located in permanent buildings -- not roadside stands -- to sell all the consumer-level fireworks available in neighboring states. They could open for business in the weeks around New Year's Day and July 4th.

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Tomassoni and backers argued that the move would merely legalize an activity that's already widespread in the state and bring in as much as $1 million per year in sales tax to boot.

But opponents, led by firefighters, said emergency workers are already overburdened and underfunded as they deal with terrorism concerns. Nyle Zikmund, the fire chief in Spring Lake Park, said the plan would likely cost his community money in police, fire and ambulance expenses.

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