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Published October 18, 2010, 09:36 AM

Pawlenty signs flood relief for southern Minnesota

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With the need clear and the campaign trail waiting, Minnesota lawmakers made quick work of a disaster relief package on Monday.

By: MARTIGA LOHN, Associated Press

Within hours, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the $80 million bill to help repair damage from September floods that swept through southern Minnesota and a June tornado that hit Wadena. The legislation had unanimously passed both houses in a special session that lasted slightly more than two hours.

Hammond Mayor Judy Radke welcomed the state aid after watching Pawlenty sign the bill into law.

"Without it, I know I wouldn't be able to move forward. My goal is to go back to my residents and say, 'This is what we're getting and let's just move ahead. It's not going to be easy and it's not going to come overnight,'" she said at a Capitol news conference.

The point of the special session, said Rep. Kory Kath of Owatonna, the bill's House sponsor, was to provide "necessary relief that goes beyond party lines."

Earlier, city and county officials detailed the damage in hearings before legislative panels. Steele County Emergency Management Director Mike Johnson showed photographs of roads that disappeared into swollen rivers, cars washed away and sandbaggers in waders standing in high water in Owatonna.

"We had never seen flooding like this before in our community," he said.

Lawmakers and Pawlenty worked out the details of the relief package as they waited for the federal government to declare a disaster. The declaration for 21 southern Minnesota counties hit by heavy rain and flooding starting Sept. 22 came late Wednesday. The federal government covers three-quarters of the public costs, leaving the rest for the state.

The bill also provides money for Wadena to replace a community center destroyed by a tornado.

Politics seeped into floor speeches.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, extolled the package as "the good work that government does and can do." Moments later, Democratic Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul was bothered that Republicans were using other infrastructure votes against Democrats on the campaign trail while they stressed the pressing nature of this aid.

And Democratic Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia attempted to provoke Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer into a floor spat by questioning his past votes against disaster relief measures.

Emmer let the digs slide, sitting quietly at his desk and flipping through papers as his name was invoked. After the vote, he told reporters that he didn't want to engage in partisan "sniping."

"I'm not playing," Emmer said, adding, "We'll campaign outside of here."

The House approved the bill about an hour after gaveling in the special session; the Senate vote came about an hour later.

Shortly after that, both houses adjourned so legislators could get back to the hunt for votes. In two weeks, voters will make their picks for all 201 legislative seats. Rev. Dennis J. Johnson drew laughs in the House chamber when he reminded members their election opponents were out knocking on doors while they spent the day at the Capitol.

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Associated Press Writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

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