UPDATE: Minnesota House approves heating aid - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Minnesota House approves heating aid

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Senate underway Senate underway

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KTTC) -- The Minnesota House has approved a bill to send emergency heating aid to Minnesota.

The new Minnesota legislative session opened Tuesday. Within an hour of opening, the House voted unanimously to direct $20 million dollars toward a state heating assistance program for low-income residents.

The Senate is likely to vote on the bill early next week.

State lawmakers are looking for solutions to the propane shortage during what is considered the coldest winter in 35 years.

An estimated 250,000 Minnesota households use propane to heat their homes. The average cost of a gallon of propane currently sits around $3.27 a gallon. That's much higher than the average of $1.63 per gallon a year ago.

Lawmakers will also have to decide what to do with a sizable budget surplus. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans in both chambers want to use the extra money for tax cuts.

Majority Senate Democrats want to build the state's rainy day accounts. Lawmakers have also mentioned paying cash for construction projects, rather than borrow money for work on roads and government buildings.

There are also big implications for Rochester in the next 12 weeks. Although Destination Medical Center was passed last May, the Mayo Civic Center expansion was left out.

Local lawmakers and Gov. Dayton hope that won't be the case this time around. In January, Dayton included the civic center in his bonding bill. He recommended $37 million to go toward the total project cost of $81 million. The governor says the project should've been completed years ago.  

Another topic we can expect to hear a lot about in this new session is medical marijuana. Supporters say this could be Minnesota's best chance yet to see pot legalized for medical use.

Gov. Dayton has urged supporters to negotiate with law enforcement opponents to reach some sort of compromise.

So far that hasn't happened, but some state leaders feel that could soon change.

NewsCenter's Courtney Sturgeon is in St. Paul covering the new session and will have the latest on the NewsCenter at 5 and 6.

What is the biggest issue you would like to see addressed during the 2014 legislative session? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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