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Minnesota lawmakers close week 4 with setback for recreational marijuana

The House floor is seen during the first day of the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — A bid to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota faced a hurdle this week as a key Senate leader said it likely wouldn't have a chance in that chamber.

But that hurdle could be lowered next week as voters in Senate District 11 head to the polls to choose their next state senator. A Republican win there could strengthen the GOP lead in the Senate, while a Democratic win could hold Republicans to a one-seat advantage.

Gov. Tim Walz shared some of his priorities for his upcoming budget for the first time this week, indicating that help for Greater Minnesota communities would be front and center and that he'd reveal spending plans a little at a time ahead of his budget address later this month.

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle brought proposals aimed at curbing sexual assault and violence toward women, saying they would work to fix holes in state law that prevent survivors from getting justice.

Oh, and legislators sought to decide which dog should become the state's official breed, the pup to represent all good dogs.

As the Minnesota Legislature entered its fourth week of session, lawmakers continued to set the table for the remainder of session, teeing up topics they planned to address and drawing lines outlining what could pass (and what likely couldn't) in the divided Legislature.

Here's a look at what happened at the Capitol this week.

Recreational marijuana gets a reality check

Minutes after a bipartisan group of lawmakers presented their proposal to allow Minnesotans 21 and older to use marijuana for recreational use and set up regulations to control that, a key Senate leader put their hopes on hold.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said it wasn't a top issue and could appear contradictory as lawmakers aim to combat opioid addiction and abuse and push to outlaw distracted driving.

"I don’t think it has a chance to pass the Senate this year," Gazelka said in a statement.

And with a GOP majority in the Senate, it could be a heavy lift for the measure's supporters. While one Republican, Sen. Scott Jensen of Chaska, signed on to the proposal, it didn't appear to have the numbers it needed to pass in that chamber.

With a special election set for next week, that lift could get a little lighter.

Eyes turn north for District 11 special election

Voters in state Senate District 11 are set to choose their new state senator on Tuesday, possibly changing the political power structure in that chamber.

Walz last month named the district's former state Sen. Tony Lourey Commissioner of Human Services, opening up the seat. Lourey's son Stu Lourey is running for the seat as a Democrat and will face Republican state Rep. Jason Rarick and Legal Marijuana Now candidate John “Sparky” Birrenbach.

The outcome could give Republicans a more comfortable majority or return the Senate to a one-vote split.

Walz shows hand on budget priorities

In front of a room full of Greater Minnesota mayors and city councilors, Walz on Wednesday, Jan. 30, talked about some of his budget priorities, including a $30 million a year boost for funding to local governments.

The DFL governor said he'd push to get the extra funds to help cities and towns pay for essential services like fixing streets and providing law enforcement services while keeping property taxes down. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities planned to request a $30.5 million a year increase to put local government aid funds in line with the high water mark they saw in 2002, adjusting for inflation.

Walz also said his spending plan will include a "moonshot" to bring broadband access to rural Minnesota in two years, add funds to maintain roads and bridges and create a new mechanism for bringing dollars to schools in a more equitable way. Communities could also expect additional grant opportunities, he said.

Later this month, Walz will deliver his budget proposal, which could be revised once the state receives updated revenue projections.

Lawmakers aim to close loopholes in rape laws

Members of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee deemed this week "Gender-based violence prevention week" at the Capitol as the panel considered a slate of other proposals aimed at curbing sexual assault. The proposals would require police agencies to set up policies for handling sexual assault cases, call for a review of the sentencing guidelines for committing the crime, re-write what it means to occupy a position of authority, drop the statute of limitations for felony sex offenses and outlaw unwanted, intentional touching of a person's buttocks.

The proposals come after the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a series outlining areas of state law that deny justice to rape survivors in Minnesota.

One breed to represent all the good dogs?

Also this week, a so-called "bi-paw-tisan" group of lawmakers brought forth a bill that would make the Labrador Retriever the state's official dog breed.

Lawmakers supporting the measure said it was aimed at raising awareness about the work of service dogs, helping kids learn about tracking bills through the Legislature and bringing more fun (and pooches) to the Capitol.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email