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Capitol notebook: Student athlete says coaches need to understand concussions

ST. PAUL -- Chris Heffele was under more pressure than many Minnesota House meeting witnesses.

First, the high school student was talking to high-powered state representatives. Second, he faces problems because of two concussions that occurred in sports events. Third, he was sitting next to the author of the bill being discussed who also is father of the girl he is dating.

Heffele told a House committee Wednesday that he supports a bill by Rep. Ron Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, to require coaches and parents to get more information about concussions.

"The coaches should be able to know the minor signs of concussions..." Heffele told committee members. "If they don't know what is going on, they could put the athlete back into the game and affect the athlete long term."

Heffele suffered a concussion during football season, then a second one in a basketball game.

"Almost every day since my basketball concussion in December, I have had headaches and my learning capabilities haven't gone up at all and it is hard to read," he said.

The athlete also said he finds it harder to speak since his concussions.

The committee approved the bill, sending it to a future House vote.

Dayton sees problems

The Dayton administration says it has big problems with the Republican-led Legislature's two major spending bills.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's education and health and human services commissioners wrote to legislative negotiators Wednesday outlining problems they see in the budget bills as lawmakers look toward a mandatory May 23 adjournment date. Before then, they are supposed to craft a state budget of at least $34 billion for the next two years.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson listed 41 objections she has to a bill that primarily funds welfare and health programs for the poor, disabled and elderly.

"My greatest concern is that a budget reduction target of $1.6 billion for HHS is simply too large," Jesson wrote to negotiators. "Budget reductions of this magnitude will put vulnerable people at risk."

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius wrote to legislative negotiators that House and Senate bills "ignore the governor's education proposals."

"I do not consider these bills a starting point for serious negotiations," she wrote.

On Tuesday, Dayton said he wants legislators to send him spending bills by May 6, but GOP leaders said they will not pay attention to the arbitrary deadline.

The House and Senate have passed eight spending bills and a tax bill that are in negotiations to resolve differences between the two bodies. Dayton complained that those negotiations are not moving quickly enough.

Photo ID votes

Bills requiring voters to present photo identifications before casting ballots are moving n two ways.

On Wednesday, 34 House Republicans introduced a constitutional amendment proposal. Senators are to vote on a separate proposed law as early as today.

While Republicans who control the Legislature support voter photo ID, Gov. Mark Dayton does not and he likely would not sign a bill.

A constitutional amendment, however, bypasses the governor and once the Legislature approves it the measure goes directly to the voters. In this case, the public would vote on the issue in November of 2012.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, is chief author of the constitutional amendment proposal. She is a former secretary of state, where she was in charge of the state's elections.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, is a co-author of the bill.

Notification bill

Legislators will consider a bill establishing a state next-of-kin registry that law enforcement officers could use after a serious accident or other emergency.

"Sometimes law enforcement spends many hours trying to locate a loved one, and time is critical in saving lives," Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said. "The program is entirely voluntary and, under Minnesota's data privacy laws, only law enforcement and emergency personnel would have access to the information."

If the bill does not pass out of a committee before Friday's deadline, it still could be considered next year.

Newspaper notices remain

A bill written to reduce mandates on local governments was amended Wednesday to require most legal notices still to be printed in local newspapers.

Rep. Roger Crawford, R-Mora, wrote the bill to help governments save money, but on a split voice vote a House committee opted to keep legal notice requirements pretty much as is.

Crawford's bill would have allowed governments to put more legal notices on the Internet instead of printing in a local newspaper.

"There may be time when we don't use paper for anything, but that time has not come," Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said, adding that some small newspapers depend on legal notices for quite a bit of their revenue.

But Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah shot back that newspapers "will adapt. ... It is not local government's job to subsidize businesses."

Older Minnesotans would especially be hurt by putting legal notices on line, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said, because fewer in that age bracket use computers.

Sandra Neren, representing Minnesota's 370 newspapers, said newspaper Web sites such as the West Central Tribune in Willmar attract more than a million visitors a month, while many fewer visit government Web sites.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.