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Gun proposals stall in the Legislature

Briana Bierschbach//March 19, 2013

Gun proposals stall in the Legislature

Briana Bierschbach//March 19, 2013

Rep. Michael Paymar (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

A gun bill that would require universal background checks has stalled in a key committee in the House, and lawmakers in the Senate are holding off action on a companion bill.

After debating a bill to expand background checks to gun shows, private sales and online sales for nearly two hours Tuesday morning, the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee recessed until the evening to take a vote. But when it came time to reconvene, Democrats were absent from the hearing room for more than an hour while Republican members waited in their seats.  Chairman Michael Paymar, the bill’s author, reconvened the committee only for a moment to lay over his bill instead of taking a vote.

After the hearing, Paymar told the Pioneer Press that his bill is dead, but he will try to push an alternate proposal that extends background checks to just gun shows.

Last week a bill with universal background checks, authored by DFL Sen. Ron Latz, passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk pulled Latz’s bill from a Rules Committee agenda for Wednesday pending a resolution in the House.

“Considering now that the House has not met the deadline with the Latz companion bill, we’re going to hold it over in Rules until we see what the house finally does,” Bakk said. “But there’s no point in the Senate moving the bill that right now, today at least, looks to be dead in the House.”

Lawmakers are split between dueling DFL gun bills in the House. Earlier this month, more than 70 House Republicans and and mostly rural Democrats, led by Brooklyn Park DFL Rep. Debra Hilstrom, introduced an alternative gun bill that nixed background checks. Instead, the modest bill proposed to increase penalties for so-called straw purchases and would require state agencies and courts to quickly forward information on to a national database that lists mentally ill people who cannot own guns. That bill has the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA), but Paymar has refused to hear the new bill in his committee.

Paymar defended background checks before the committee on Tuesday morning, saying the proposal polls with broad support. “I think this is a minor inconvenience for a civilized society,” he said. Paymar said he made compromises on the bill by adding an exclusion for sales between family members.

That wasn’t enough for Republican Rep. Tony Cornish, a retired peace officer who said the bill was “too horrible to make it out of committee.” At the start of the hearing, Cornish predicted all Republicans and two Democrats would vote against the bill.  “This bill is a nightmare for gun owners.”

NRA lobbyist Chris Rager said he was upset Paymar chose to hold the vote on the bill in the evening, adding that he had heard Paymar planned to “wrangle” and “bully” Democrats to vote for his bill throughout the day. Paymar denied the accusation.

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