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Senate backs booster seat change

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators tentatively approved requiring children younger than 8 years old to use booster seats or other forms of safety restraints.

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Senators will be asked to give the measure formal approval later, after a preliminary 41-22 vote Monday. The House has not acted on the measure.

The bill requires children ages 4 to 8, and up to 4-foot-9, must be restrained appropriately. Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, said parents could use booster seats or, in some cases, regular seat belts with the children.

"It just defines the type of seat a child should be restrained in," Carlson said.

However, Republicans and Iron Range Democrats led the charge against the bill.

"Police officers will be able to stop any vehicle with a short person," Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a former Douglas County sheriff, said law enforcement officers will face difficult situations if the bill passes.

"This is going to be a nightmare for law enforcement, having to pull out their tape measures in the middle of the night to measure children," Ingebrigtsen said.

The former sheriff said he used to support the bill.

The bill is needed, countered Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. He said only 15 percent of the children affected by the bill not are properly restrained.

Children not in proper restraints are much more likely to be killed or injured, Carlson added.

Current law only applies to children younger than 4.

Outdoor plans OK'd

The newly created Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council Monday recommended that legislators spend $65 million on 18 projects in 77 counties.

The council, funded by a half-percent sales tax that voters approved last November, received $250 million in project requests. The projects must be approved by lawmakers before they receive funding.

The council focused on projects that are nearly ready to begin. Projects mostly are involved with protection, restoration and enhancement of the outdoors.

Projects would protect 210,000 acres of land and more than 300 miles of shoreline.

River grant supported

Senators showed support Monday for a grant to expand a Red River monitoring program.

A bill by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, calls for $546,000 grant from Pollution Control Agency funds to the Red River Watershed Management Board. The money would be used to expand the River Watch program, in which northwestern Minnesota citizens and school students monitor the river and surrounding watershed.

The bill is not related to current Red River flooding, but Stumpf noted that the program is called River Watch, "which is quite appropriate right now."

The Senate environment subcommittee set the bill aside for possible inclusion in a larger spending package.

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