ST. PAUL - Families should be allowed to cite religious beliefs when objecting to autopsies, the Minnesota House decided Saturday.

Two American Indian families’ efforts to prevent loved ones’ bodies from undergoing autopsies earlier this year prompted the bill, which passed the House 128-3. Senators approved it earlier.

The bill’s fate rests with Gov. Mark Dayton.

The legislation was one of several policy items considered Saturday by lawmakers, even as the spotlight fell on budget items.

The bill by Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, “has gone into great depth” to solve a problem of current law that gives most authority to medical examiners and coroners, he said.

Under the bill, coroners and medical examiners who intend to perform an autopsy would first have to inform the deceased person’s family, who could object.

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Coroners and medical examiners could still proceed, if they determine there is a compelling state interest in conducting an autopsy.

In cases not meeting those conditions, coroners and medical examiners would be able to ask a judge for authority to perform an autopsy. Family members would be party to the proceeding and could submit evidence.

Green emphasized his bill doesn’t change existing law concerning mandatory autopsies. “It deals only with discretionary autopsies.”

Vegetative buffers

One thing House and Senate negotiators struggled to solve was how to deal with Dayton’s desire to require vegetative buffers to keep pollution from entering Minnesota water.

“I think there is a lot of agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said about buffers, but no specific wording had been released.

Dayton said he thought 1,000 hours were spent on drawing up a buffer compromise in the last two weeks.

Farmers objected to the governor’s original proposal to require a 50-foot strip around water. One of the final hang-ups was whether buffers would be required around private waterways.

Flood relief

House members approved 129-2 funding local governments hit by floods last summer.

The bill would appropriate $23.5 million for repairs and improvements.

It is the second disaster bill related to those summer storms the House has passed this session. Dayton signed a previous disaster relief bill into law in January that provided $17 million in relief for communities affected by the flooding.

Conservation projects

Also, more than $46 million would be available to pay for projects meant to protect, conserve, preserve and enhance the state’s natural resources after the House passed legislation by a 100-30 vote.

The bill would appropriate money based on recommendations made by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources for expenditures from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Money comes from the Minnesota State Lottery.

The largest appropriation is $14.19 million to acquire land for habitat and recreation, followed by $12.93 million to collect information about the state’s natural resources.

License plate data

A compromise appears to have ended one of the session’s most controversial issues, what to do with automatic license plate reader data. The data would have to be destroyed after 60 days unless part of an ongoing investigation.

Transportation

Some lawmakers held out hope that a transportation funding bill could pass this year, but Bakk and Dayton gave little hope.

“It seems very unlikely,” Bakk said.

Dayton said he was “very disappointed” that transportation hopes were fading. Money to improve roads, bridges and transit was his second-highest priority behind education.

In light of the apparent transportation funding failure, if any rail safety legislation is to pass, it would have to be part of a public works funding bill, Bakk said.

Bonding bill

Legislators were working Saturday night on legislation to sell state bonds so the state could fund projects such as rail safety, flood recovery and unexpected Capitol building renovation needs.

However, there were questions whether House Democrats would provide their needed votes to back a so-called bonding bill because they were not involved in negotiations. Republicans have said they do not need a bonding bill.

Cancer chemical ban

Representatives voted 125-6 to ban four flame-retardant chemicals in consumer products such as furniture that firefighters say causes cancer. Senators still needed to vote on the measure.

Contributing to this report were Minnesota House Session Daily and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner.