(AP) Talk of illegal immigrants and same-sex domestic partners brought out the cranky side of the Minnesota House on Thursday, as lawmakers approved spending bills for colleges, tourism promotion and state agency operations.
They clashed over a plan to give in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.
And Republicans were so disgusted with the state government bill - which includes health coverage for the same-sex partners of state employees - that they stopped trying to remake it and forced an unexpectedly quick vote after two days of prolonged post-midnight sessions.
"The payback to the special interests, the overspending, the bloat, the waste, the outrage - it's all in this one bill," said GOP House Minority Leader Marty Seifert.
That bill squeaked by on a 68-64 vote, with 17 Democrats voting no. The bill would force the state to offer health insurance to gay and lesbian partners of state employees, and would allow local governments to do so if they chose.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty - who worked to remove the domestic-partner benefits from state government employee contracts in 2003 - said the bill deserves his veto, and not just because of the same-sex provisions.
"There may be 15 reasons for vetoing that one," he said.
The debate came on the same day a gay-rights advocacy group staged its annual lobbying blitz, drawing hundreds to the Capitol. The domestic-partner provisions are the top priority of Outfront Minnesota this year.
The illegal immigrant tuition proposal - called the Dream Act by supporters - brought out deeply felt arguments on both sides. The measure would apply to students who spent at least three years in a Minnesota high school and intend to seek permanent resident status in the United States. It's also part of a Senate college spending bill, but Pawlenty is against it.
Backers spoke of the United States' immigrant heritage and the contributions of newcomers. Opponents said the measure would weaken respect for the law. An attempt to strip it from the college bill failed 61-71 as immigrant students watched from the gallery.
"We make it almost impossible for these young, bright people to pursue their dreams," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.
The higher education package passed 95-37, but its prospects beyond the House are murky. Seifert warned that the immigrant tuition would doom the bill to Pawlenty's veto.
The bill would provide sizable increases to Minnesota's public colleges with the expectation that university officials will pass the sentiment onto students.
"The days of double-digit tuition increases are over," said DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina, the chairman of a House higher education panel.
If the House bill became law, Rukavina said, students at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system could expect tuition increases in the 2 percent range next school year. Under an amendment added during the debate, tuition would stay put the year after that.
University of Minnesota students might see bumps held to 4 percent to 5 percent a year, Rukavina said.
State student financial aid programs would also be enhanced.
In all, the bill would provide $3.2 billion over the next two years, roughly $400 million above the current spending level.
The House bill also earmarks money to study textbook cost-control programs and puts $2 million into a pilot scholarship program for students from rural areas who take college-level courses while in high school.
Remembering last year's multimillion-dollar buyouts of football and basketball coaches, House members voted to bar the University of Minnesota from using state tax dollars for future buyouts, whether public money is used directly or indirectly.
Wading into a controversy over foot baths for Muslim students at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, they also voted to make colleges offer all religious groups the same amount of accommodations and spending.
Earlier, the House approved an economic development bill that would increase the budgets for the state's tourism bureau, the historical society, business incentive funds and housing assistance programs. It passed 92-39.
Among the noteworthy provisions are the partial replenishment of an Iron Range redevelopment fund that was squeezed during the 2003 budget crisis and a repeal of Capitol tour fees put in place a few years ago.
Originally, the bill contained a 25-cent surcharge on men's college hockey tickets to help operate the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth. Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, recoiled at the ticket fee.
"This is Minnesota. Please, not on hockey tickets," she said. "Members, we don't need a tax on hockey tickets in Minnesota."
Under pressure, House Democrats relented and pulled $120,000 from other spending in the bill to cover much of what the surcharge would have brought in.