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Senate panel passes gay partners benefits proposal

Partners of gay local government employees could receive health care benefits under a bill that passed its first Senate test.

"This is an issue of local control," said the bill's author, Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL - Minneapolis. "The Legislature shouldn't prevent cities and counties from implementing good hiring practices."

Higgins' bill, which gives local governments the option of providing benefits, is headed to the full Senate.

For the past four years, state law limits governments to offering health care to employees, their spouses and children.

Under a separate bill, gay state employees would get the same benefits as local workers would under Higgins' bill.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposes offering gay partners benefits and likely would veto the bills.