MARSHALL - The Minnesota Senate has been keeping busy since the Easter recess ended, but most of the news that has come out of the Senate has involved medical marijuana, not the biggest piece of business left to take care of this session: the construction bill.
A Senate finance panel on Friday approved a medical marijuana bill that would not permit smoking the drug. The legislation would allow using a vaporizer in non-public places to inhale marijuana.
Friday's changes came the day after House leaders introduced a bill for a limited clinical trial for medical marijuana. Law enforcement says it won't oppose that proposal, but it appears doubtful legalization will be pushed through this session.
District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said as of now, he wouldn't support any bill that would legalize marijuana.
"I just don't think enough research has been done on this drug," he said. "And I don't think we have enough parameters put in place to control it. We really shouldn't introduce this drug without more research and without a better system to dispense it.
"I want to see a complete bill once it's ready to get to the Senate floor, but at this point I would be voting against it," he added.
Meanwhile, the future of the Senate bonding bill everyone is waiting for is unclear. Both Gov. Mark Dayton and the House have released their versions of a construction package, and it was thought the Senate might release its version this past Monday but didn't.
"Apparently, there is a lot of divisiveness going on among the DFL and the leadership caucus," Dahms said. "I don't know exactly what's going on. It was supposed to be introduced last Friday, then it was supposed to be introduced Monday, and we still haven't seen it. Honestly, I don't know what's holding it up."
DFL leaders announced Friday that roughly $200 million of the state's $1.2 billion budget surplus will be used on construction projects that don't make the final bill.
Of course, there's plenty on the line locally, as the city of Marshall is trying to secure funding for the regional amateur sports center and expansion at the MERIT training center.
The city's $4 million request for the sports center is included in funding packages released by Dayton and the House; MERIT Center funding was nixed in both.
The House proposal came in two parts. One authorizes $850 million in state-backed borrowing, and the other draws $125 million in cash from a budget surplus.
"I know the House has been talking about some doing some of the bonding bill in cash, and if we can do that for transportation, I'm a proponent of that," said Dahms.
Dahms said he would like to see rural Minnesota's transportation needs addressed this session, possibly by infusing up to $200 million into the state's Corridors for Commerce account.
"We need to get some money out to rural Minnesota, and that would be a good way to do it," he said.
The Legislature in 2013 created the Corridors of Commerce program by authorizing the sale of up to $300 million in new bonds for the construction, reconstruction and improvement of trunk highways. In November, Dayton announced that the Minnesota Highway 23 corridor from Willmar to Interstate 90 was one of 10 highway construction projects chosen to receiving grant funding through the program.
Between $13 million and $19 million for passing lane projects has been allocated for that stretch of highway.