Bridge victims’ fund signed

Gov. Tim Pawlenty approved the bridge collapse victims’ compensation fund Thursday.

The $38 million package is broken into two separate funds; one $24 million fund will provide up to $400,000 for most of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse victims.

Another $12.6 million supplemental fund will provide compensation for victims who were “extraordinarily impacted” by the collapse, which includes those experiencing extensive medical and financial costs, senate sponsor of the bill Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said at a news conference last week.

The supplemental fund will cover all uncompensated medical costs, long-term health insurance for victims and wage losses that exceed the initial $400,000 cap on the first fund, Latz said.

The bill also mandates that victims receiving state compensation waive any right to sue the state for further damages.

Aside from freeing the state of any further liability, the University was also cleared of any legal responsibility in the bill. Worries that the University could be sued stemmed from a 2001 study released by the school that claimed the bridge was safe and didn’t need to be replaced.

Earlier this week when legislators passed the bill, Pawlenty praised the compensation effort.

“It provides needed relief and support for victims and family members directly impacted by the I-35W bridge tragedy,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis and a co-author of the House compensation bill, lauded the effort to compensate victims and the bipartisanship shown in passing the bill.

“That’s just fabulous,” she said. “It’s the first signing I’ve been invited to in the governor’s office in six years.”

Kahn said the bill is modeled after the compensation for victims of 9/11, including the waiving of rights to sue the state. Kahn said 97 percent of the victims signed onto that compensation fund.

Furthermore, Kahn said, the bill shows a commitment from the state to help those affected by the bridge collapse.

“It does send a message that the state has the capacity to react in a unique way to a catastrophic event,” she said. “The bill did a really good job of helping the people who’ve been injured.”

House passes stem-cell research bill

The Minnesota House narrowly passed a bill that allows state money to be used for stem-cell research Wednesday by a 71-62 vote. Last April, the Senate passed a similar bill.

Kahn, the House sponsor of the bill, said it’s similar to the Senate version passed last year and is in “good shape” to be passed by the Legislature.

However, Pawlenty has been an outspoken critic of stem-cell research. Kahn said she received a letter from the governor criticizing the bill.

Pawlenty spokesman Alex Carey left the office en route to the governor’s fishing opener and did not return multiple requests for comment.

While the bill means the University could use state money for stem-cell research, it actually means very little, Academic Health Center spokeswoman Sarah Youngerman said, as the University already does a lot of that research.

Still, Youngerman said it sends a “very strong message” that the state is in support of stem-cell research.

Sending that message is exactly what Kahn was hoping to do, she said.

“We want to be in the forefront of biological research,” Kahn said. “That means we must do embryonic stem-cell research,”

-Jake Grovum is a senior staff reporter.