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One month left with lots left to do

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) There's a month left, and almost nothing has been accomplished. In other words, the Legislature is right on pace. Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he knows it's not unusual that so much remains to be done before the May 19 deadline. He was a House leader in 2001 when a special session dragged the state to the verge of a shutdown.

But he hopes the combined pressure of a sour economy, a budget shortfall and war will convince lawmakers they'll suffer politically if work drags on into a special session.

Pawlenty let his finger wag last week, warning: "The public will be in no mood to see the Legislature hanging around here next summer."

The most prominent bill to become law so far this session imposes a 24-hour waiting period on women who want abortions. Pawlenty signed it just hours after it came to him last week, but he made no official statement about it, and didn't mention it in a roundup of the week's highlights on his radio show Friday.

His co-host, though, Minneapolis Democrat Rep. Phyllis Kahn, took him to task: "You didn't even wait 24 hours, which I thought you should have had the decency to do."

Top House Democrat Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, said he thinks Pawlenty's reticence to crow about a long-sought social change is because it would be unseemly to focus on those issues until the budget is balanced.

Legislation on another hot social issue, changing the handgun permitting process, could reach the House and Senate floors this week.

But Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, insists such issues don't carry as much urgency as the budget.

"That has to get done. Very little else has to get done and can wait until next year," he said.

While the Legislature meets yearly, the sessions are grouped in two-year segments. So bills that have moved along - but not to conclusion - this year don't have to start from square one in 2004.

Among the work left to do this year:

-Balance the budget. The Republican House and Pawlenty would balance the budget through spending shifts and program cuts. The DFL-controlled Senate would balance about a fourth of the budget through a cigarette tax and a new top income tax rate.

-Deal with nuclear waste. Xcel Energy wants permission to store more waste outside its Prairie Island plant. A bill is making progress in the House, but the outcome is less clear in the Senate.

-Ante up on gambling. The House budget bets on getting $100 million by turning Canterbury Park race track into a state-run casino. Pawlenty says he doesn't like the idea.

-Set new education standards. The education department is scrambling to come up with new standards. Rep. Barb Sykora, the House education chairwoman, said it has to happen this year. "We can't let another year go by without fixing this thing."

Also this week, House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, said he expects the Ethics Committee to meet again to consider charges that Rep. Arlon Lindner, R-Corcoran, brought disrepute to the House when he questioned wether the Nazis persecuted gays in the Holocaust.

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