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Halfway through, lawmakers have one bill passed

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- With two months down and 21⁄2; remaining in the 2003 session, you can count the new laws on one hand. Make that one finger.

Bills some people hope to make laws this year are stuck in a clogged drain that leads to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk. Only one has slid through for his signature; it dealt with the name of two streets in St. Cloud.

In one of those stating-the-obvious moments Friday, Pawlenty said, "We're not exactly getting a lot of product yet."

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In fairness to legislators, the $4 billion-plus budget deficit they need to clear up has occupied much of their time. They spent their first month trying to reconcile the books through this June, only to deadlock and let Pawlenty handle the $356 million shortfall.

Now, they're digesting his 2004-2005 proposal, which contains significant changes in the way Minnesota spends its money and the programs government funds.

But there are plenty of nonbudget bills before them, too. Through Friday, 773 bills had been introduced in the House and 712 in the Senate.

Fifteen have passed the House, ranging from one repealing the Profile of Learning graduation standards to another restricting driver's licenses for people on temporary visas. Eight have cleared the Senate, although they've been mostly minor in scope.

The slow going is quickly getting to some members.

"After two months what have we done? We've done absolutely nothing," Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, a Republican from Owatonna, lashed out last week. It's time, he said, to cast votes. "Whether you're for them or not, people in Minnesota want us to get something done."

But Majority Leader John Hottinger, a Democrat from St. Peter, said he sees no need to rush, especially when it comes to the budget.

"We want to do it right," he said. "We don't want to do it fast."

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