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Some parting thoughts

Posted at 4:30 PM on May 20, 2008 by Michael Marchio (5 Comments)

The 85th Legislative session now belongs to the ages, and I think we can say it was a good one. The governor got a property tax cap, we'll have the first new state park in 30 years put on Lake Vermilion if all goes according to plan, and the first steps in health care reform were pushed through. The Central Corridor is on track, and there's more transportation funding on the way. Everyone compromised, and everyone pretty much got some of what they wanted. This is the way things are supposed to work in civics books, and a productive session like this was a good present for lawmakers to give the state on its 150th birthday.

On Sunday, the last day of the session, the Capitol was filled with people from all over the state who came to celebrate the Sesquicentennial and watch the fireworks burst over the marble dome later that night. It's an inspiring thing, in a way, that in a democracy the bosses - the people - wear sweatshirts and jeans and their employees - the lawmakers - wear suits.

Session came to a close right before midnight, but not before Rep. Mark Olson (IR-Sherburne) gave a windy speech on Real ID. Hey, it just wouldn't be right for the session to end any other way. After, retiring lawmakers in the House gave their parting speeches, and the mood changed to something akin to a high school graduation, relieved that it's over, but a little melancholic that this was the last time they would all be together in one room. Party divisions disappeared and lawmakers spoke to each other not as members of the majority or minority, but as colleagues, something you might wish they'd do more during the session.

Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover) and Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Minneapolis) gave especially good ones, and I'd encourage you to watch them all here. The speeches begin at 1 hour and 20 minutes in. They, along with Reps. Brad Finstad (R-Comfrey) John Berns (R-Wayzata) Scott Kranz (DFL-Blaine) Frank Moe (DFL-Bemidji) Aaron Peterson (DFL-Appleton) Connie Ruth (R-Owatonna) Kathy Tingelstad (R-Andover) Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) and Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport) won't be coming back for another session. But the best was from Rep. Dennis Ozment (R-Rosemount), a 24-year veteran at the Legislature respected across the aisle. I've taken a bit of the audio from his speech, and you can listen to it here. His are wise words for lawmakers, and if they're heeded, might produce fewer sessions that die in partisan acrimony as the clock runs out.

There's a phrase they use around the Capitol, the "end-of-session depression." It's kind of strange, when you think about it. Lawmakers and staff go through a truly remarkable amount of stress during a session, beginning their day earlier than most people and working late into the night, sometimes until 3 or 4 a.m. for little pay and less public appreciation, and many are far away from their families for weeks at a time. To be sad to see that end might seem odd, but I think I know what they're talking about. There is something about the workings of government, smoothly churning or sometimes - okay, a lot of times - just clanking along, that becomes reassuring and even fun. The call of the roll, the suspense of a narrow vote, the heated banter - these things become welcome additions to our lives for a few months, and I for one can't wait for them to begin again next January.

We certainly had a lot to follow, with 1,703 House bills and 1,531 Senate bills introduced this session alone, and a record total of 4,256 in the House and 3,889 in the Senate for the biennium. I want to thank everyone who commented on the blog and participated in the MFL. You folks are the reason we brought the MFL back for a second year and will be the reason if we bring it back next year. It's been an honor to serve as your commissioner during the session.

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A run in 2010?

Posted at 3:41 PM on May 19, 2008 by Michael Marchio

Here's an exclusive first look at the 2010 gubernatorial race:

Tommy and Mee edited.JPG

No, actually that sign is a joke that Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul) put together for her colleague in the House, Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia).

Your Commish is hard at work entering bills your lawmakers passed and the governor signed over this last weekend. I'll have a session recap and some parting thoughts for you tomorrow, so do check back.


Sine die!

Posted at 11:43 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio

Congratulations, lawmakers, the 85th Legislative session is over. Retiring lawmakers in the House are giving speeches, and I'd encourage you to watch.


Everyone's a comedian

Posted at 10:51 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio (1 Comments)

Sen. Murphy just did his impression of how Sen. Pogemiller walks (think a guy hurling himself forward holding invisible briefcases), Sen. Metzen threatened to send the sergeants after him, and then did his impression of House Chief Clerk Albin Mathiowetz for everyone.

Over in the House, Rep. Paul Kohls asked whether the Speaker had any duct tape so they can get members to pipe down and end this session on time. And guess what? She did!

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Maybe no constitutional amendment

Posted at 10:18 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio

It sounds like the Senate is about ready to call it a session after all. Sen. Pogemiller and Sen. Clark just thanked staff, committee chairs, the minority lawmakers everyone involved in the process for their work this year, and Sen. Senjem is handing out some thank-you's of his own.

It wouldn't be right for the House to finish before the Senate, and it doesn't look like they will. They're still discussing the omnibus fish and game bill, but look like they're close to a vote.


Hey, we might get a constitutional amendment

Posted at 9:46 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio

Sen. Tarryl Clark's HF3796, the constitutional amendment to have a citizen's council set lawmaker pay, is being intoduced on the Senate floor. The mood in the Capitol suggested that lawmakers were about to call it a session, but maybe not.

Here's the wording of the question:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove legislators' ability to set their own salaries and per diem, and instead establish a citizens-only council to prescribe salaries and per diem for legislators?"

Sen. Geoff Michel says that they spent nine years on the constitutional amendment for ourdoor heritage funding, and doesn't think its okay they're going to spend a half an hour on this one. He says if they want a pay raise, then they should vote for one.

To clarify, no one knows whether the citizen's council would raise or lower lawmaker pay.

Sen. Dennis Fredrickson (R-New Ulm) says there's an inherent conflict of interest when lawmakers have to set their own pay, and he supports putting this amendment on the ballot.

Here's who would be on it: One person from each congressional district appointed by the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and one from each district appointed by the governor. Half appointed by each must be registered members of whatever party has the most members in the Legislature, and the other half, the party with the second most members, so half must be DFLer and half Republicans. No love for the Greens or Independence Party.

It was just tabled, and the Senate is now taking up SF2651, the omnibus fish and game bill.

UPDATE: It passed unanimously.


Session ending in a bang (literally)

Posted at 8:42 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio

Some Iron Rangers are expressing their anger about the Lake Vermilion State Park, arguing that in an area as economically distressed as theirs, taking more land of the tax rolls won't help.

"The problem is now we have no place to work, all we can do is paddle," said Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake).

Rep. Tom Rukavina said that he's sick of hearing about the "pristine forests", and that the governor didn't seem to care that much about the Range when he vetoed their other bonding projects, like new science classrooms at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College.

He was interrupted by loud bangs over the top of the Capitol, and Speaker Kelliher told him she thought he was causing fireworks. If anyone could do it, it would be Rep. Rukavina.

"Send these people a message, God," he yelled. Damn the fireworks, full speed ahead.

The best speech, though, probably belongs to Minority Leader Seifert. He said he didn't feel good about the bill, about how it was crafted behind closed doors, over the objections of the lawmakers and the constituents most directly affected. He said he knows they need 81 votes to pass this, and that the governor wants the park, but that members should be able to vote their conscience.

Rep. Seifert has been known to throw a cherry bomb or two of his own on the floor, as any leader must, but in the Commish's opinion, Rep. Seifert sounded downright statesmanlike tonight, and his appeal to lawmakers, while less fiery than Rep. Rukavina's, was even more effective. I'll link to his speech tomorrow.

The bill passed, 107 to 26, and the House has gone to recess until around 9:45. The Senate's debating the omnibus tax bill, and I'll update you when we get a vote on that.

UPDATE: The tax bill has been passed 56-11.


"Buesgens votes aye"

Posted at 7:54 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio (1 Comments)

Those were the words of Speaker Kelliher as the vote came in on HF3149, the omnibus tax bill. Whenever there's a last minute vote change, the Speaker announces it, and when she announced that one, applause broke out.

When Rep. Mark Buesgens votes with the majority for a bill, you know you've reached a healthy compromise. Minority Leader Seifert also rose to say he supported the bill. The vote for that bill went 129 to 3. Very kumbaya, over in the House.

There House is sounding notes like they're about ready to close this thing down. Majority Leader Sertich is thanking the staff.
"It takes a lot of people to make us look good[...]they're here before we get here and have to clean up when we're done," he said.

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Bonding through the Senate

Posted at 7:20 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio

The Senate just passed two of the big three bills, with the bonding and budget bills sailing through easily. Every DFLer voted for the bonding bill, even Range lawmakers skeptical of the Vermilion project, along with Sens. Steve Dill, Dennis Frederickson, Michelle Fischbach, Joe Gimse, Geoff Michel, and Julie Rosen for a total of 50-17.

The budget bill had more mixed dissent, with protest votes coming from Sen. John Marty and Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes on the DFL side, probably because of cuts to human services in the bill. That one passed easily too, though, 56-11.

They've recessed to go participate in an event for the state's birthday party, taking place on the Capitol mall, but when they get back, they'll have to take up the last big one, the tax bill.

The House has just come back from recess and they're working on that right now. For once, House lawmakers are keeping their comments short, sweet and on point, and the Senate's the one with all the soliloquies. We still have nearly 5 hours left before mandatory ajournment, so don't worry, I'm sure we'll get some from the House too.


Bonding bill looking for 41 friends in the Senate

Posted at 4:32 PM on May 18, 2008 by Michael Marchio (2 Comments)

Here's an interesting little factoid. Bonding bills need 60 percent of the vote in each chamber to pass. This usually isn't a problem at all, because pretty much every member has a project included in the overall bill. Everyone votes for it, everyone gets something to bring home to their district. However, the one we're supposed to see today, including the Central Corridor, Lake Vermilion and a new veteran's home, might be different.

Rural lawmakers have never been nuts for light rail, because it doesn't serve their districts, and Iron Range lawmakers have been cool to the Vermilion idea because so much land in their area is already state-owned, and not bringing in tax revenue. The veterans home may have the fewest number of lawmakers who have voiced outright opposition, but the question is, can a bonding bill with only three items pick up enough votes to pass. In the Senate, the magic number is 41, and in the House, the number is 81. These projects were clearly a key part of the overall budget negotiations. Will leadership be able to round up the votes to pass a bill they might not love? Sen. Larry Pogemiller said he wants to process it within the next 20 minutes, so we'll find out soon.

The Senate just tabled HF615, Rep. Neva Walker's sex ed bill after Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), never one to be shy with amendments, offered this one:

"Section 1. [120B.21] TEACHING OF HOMOSEXUALITY OR BISEXUALITY.
A school district must not authorize or permit the promotion of homosexuality or bisexuality or allow the teaching of homosexuality or bisexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. This promotion or teaching is prohibited."

They've recessed for right now, we'll see it they take it back up this afternoon after they get some of the big bills out of the way.

Over in the House, HF1812, the budget balancer just passed 115 ayes to 19 nays, and Rep. Sertich said they're going to recess for an hour until the bonding bill, tax bill and fish and game bill are ready for votes.

UPDATE: The Senate and House have both decided to recess for an hour.

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