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Last mile is the longest one for lawmakers
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Gov. Pawlenty recites the Pledge of Allegiance Tuesday at Black Hawk Middle School in Eagan, where 160 sixth-graders looked on as he signed a bill requiring schools to lead most students in the Pledge at least once a week. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - The Legislature's extended stay at the Capitol was extended indefinitely Tuesday when new issues entered the picture and old ones wouldn't fade.

Legislative leaders thought a weekend handshake deal on three of four outstanding funding bills would bring a quick end to a special session that is now in its second week.

"It's time to put this session to bed," said Charlie Weaver, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff.

But by late afternoon, no votes had been taken on a tax bill that includes funding for local governments, a transportation bill that could infuse up to $900 million into road projects or a bonding bill carrying $216 million worth of building and infrastructure improvements.

The bonding bill is the frosting on the cow manure. If you didn't put the frosting over the top, the rest of (the budget) would smell worse.
- Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon

What's more, negotiations on a $7.4 billion health and human services finance plan still weren't done. Once that agreement is finalized, it will take half a day to get the nearly 800-page bill written and ready for a vote.

And on the day before controversial handgun permit changes take effect, Pawlenty and backers of the new law said they would push to tweak it to fix what they viewed as a minor technical error.

Democrats see the change as more substantial and some said they were prepared to propose revisions of their own. If nothing else, it gave Democrats an unexpected bargaining chip in last-minute budget talks with the Republican governor's office and GOP House leaders.

There's no telling when everything will be worked out, although leaders were aiming for a Wednesday finish. The main components of the handshake deal seemed to be holding on Tuesday. The delays were more a matter of working out parliamentary procedures than signs of substantial disagreements.

The regular session concluded on May 19 with much of the work on a two-year $28.3 billion budget unresolved. The immediate special session kept the part-time legislators from returning to their outside jobs and hobbies.

Some are getting antsy. But Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said it's more important to work through the remaining issues carefully than do them quickly.

"If I can't play golf until next week, those are the breaks," said Cohen, a lawyer by profession.

When the session ends, both Pawlenty and DFL legislators will hit the road with dueling messages about the course they took to solve a $4.23 billion deficit.

Pawlenty's recent comments suggest he will tout it as a solution that forces government to live within its means. Democrats have already begun to complain the budget will bring higher fees, tuition and property taxes while reducing government services.

Pawlenty began his day Tuesday at Black Hawk Middle School in Eagan, where 160 sixth-graders looked on as he signed a bill requiring schools to lead most students in the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week.

"You can't legislate patriotism, but you sure can educate children on what makes our country great," he said.

None of the five budget bills the Legislature has approved so far have received the governor's signature. Another major bill to extend bar closing time to 2 a.m. also is awaiting his pen, although Pawlenty endorsed that change last week as part of a deal to hire 50 state troopers.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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