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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Counties like giving up prisoners

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Local Minnesota governments may not be happy with the way things are going this year at the Capitol - with big state aid cuts coming - but counties are thrilled with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to remove one burden from them.

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In the revised budget plan the governor released Tuesday, he proposed that the state take back responsibility for housing short-term offenders. For years, the state has forced counties to hold prisoners serving less than a half year, but did not pay counties the full cost of keeping those inmates.

Not all counties have enough cells to accommodate the extra load. St. Louis County's jail, for instance, is full and all of the state's short-term offenders had to be sent elsewhere at county expense. Chisago County also has had to export prisoners to such varied areas as Polk County, Wis., and central Minnesota's Meeker County.

County leaders are encouraging lawmakers to pass that part of Pawlenty's budget plan now, so it does not get mired in end-of-session negotiations.

Jim McDonough, Association of Minnesota Counties president and Ramsey County Commissioner, welcomed Pawlenty's plan because "a significant burden would be lifted from Minnesota counties - especially those counties in rural Minnesota that do not have county jails and are currently forced to pay neighboring counties or other states to house" the prisoners.

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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.
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