WASHINGTON – Congress has voted to establish a "living memorial" to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife through the creation of an immigrant community center in St. Paul, Minn.
"Paul, this is our first step toward finishing your work," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Dean Barkley, an independent from Minnesota who is filling out the term of Wellstone, a Democrat.
The Senate approved the measure by a voice vote Thursday and the House followed suit early Friday as one of its last acts before adjourning for the year.
The legislation authorizes $10 million in federal funds toward a $25 million "Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building." It would be part of Neighborhood House, a century-old social service agency for immigrants.
Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said the legislation was a fitting tribute to Wellstone's "undying compassion" for new Americans.
The Wellstones were killed in a plane crash last month along with their 33-year-old daughter, Marcia Wellstone Markuson, and five others.
Neighborhood House already has a $5.5 million commitment from the city of St. Paul; it hopes to raise the remaining $10 million from the state and private sources next year.
Wellstone was a favorite of one of Minnesota's largest immigrant populations, the Hmong, a Laotian ethnic group that fought alongside the CIA during the Vietnam War. Wellstone and another late Minnesota lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Bruce Vento, won passage of legislation to ease citizen requirements of Hmong veterans.
The state also is home to an increasing number of Somali and Hispanic immigrants.
The social service agency hopes to begin construction next year and open in 2004. The new center will include an auditorium, two gyms, a youth center, an expanded recreational center, expanded meeting space, and more classrooms.
In an interview, Barkley said one of his first missions upon his arrival in Washington last week was legislation that the Wellstones would have supported. His office ran the Neighborhood House idea past Wellstone's family and staff, who agreed to it Wednesday.
Congress still would have to appropriate the $10 million once it is passed.