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< Floor-a-palooza at Noon | Main | FLOOR-A-PALOOZA ALERT: Another storm cloud on the horizon >

Parliamentary death-match

Posted at 3:35 PM on April 2, 2008 by Michael Marchio (4 Comments)

The Senate heard SF2869, the omnibus tax bill, and Sen. John Marty came ready for war. One of his amendments killed the $2 million Vikings stadium study, and passed pretty handily, 41-22.

Another would have killed the Mall of America tax exemptions for its expanison, but that one failed 10-48.

Other amendments of note:
One offered by Sen. David Hann would have stripped local government aid from cities that don't check on immigration status as a matter of policy. It failed, 24-33.

One by Sen. Rosen would have preserved the JOBZ program in its current form. Under the bill as its written, that program will be phased out. It failed, as did another amendment that would have kept JOBZ in part.

A parliamentary floor fight broke out over members who didn't vote on an amendment offered by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen). The amendment is one of a few she sponsored this afternoon about taxes on veterans. It would eliminates taxes on military incomes and pensions. The vote failed on a 31-31 tie. That's 62 total. There are 67 senators.

Here are the rules:

Every member who is in the Senate Chamber during a roll call shall vote upon the request of another member unless excused by the Senate. A motion by a member to be excused from voting must be made before the question is put. A member wishing to be excused from voting may make a brief statement of the reason for making the request. The question on the motion to excuse must be taken without further debate.

But members not voting happens all the time. As Sen. Hann noted "When your amendments are 20 to 40 like most of mine are, it doesn't make a difference." But on this one, he said, it did make a difference, and the roll stayed open for at least a minute, enough time for senators to get over to the red or green button. He's got a point. Senators aren't elected to stay neutral on controversial issues.

Only Sen. Steve Murphy was not in the chamber, and was to be officially excused for the day at the end of the session bringing the number that should have voted to 66, had he not come in during the skirmish.

I took a look at the roll call, and there were four senators who didn't appear in the ayes or nays, Sens. Ellen Anderson, Jim Carlson, Terri Bonoff and Ann Lynch.

It took about 20 minutes to resolve whether the rules for the Senate apply to the Committee of the Whole, and if it doesn't, whether there is any way to force members to vote. The winning side can ask for a vote to reconsider the amendment, and Sen. Bakk did so. The vote to reconsider failed, and that ended it, but this was the first time the Commish has ever seen the fact that some members don't vote addressed at any length.

As they took the vote on the whole bill, I could hear Sen. Metzen say "Please vote, pretty please."

It passed, and they're taking up the bonding bill right now. Look for big points tomorrow. I hope all that excitement from the Senate rules didn't tire your lawmakers out.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like it did tire them out. Only Sens. Langseth, Michel, Koering and Wergin spoke up about it. We'll do another one, and if nothing fun is on the agenda for tomorrow, we'll do it next week.

UPDATE 2: Sen. Murphy was able to make it back to the chamber to vote on this measure, and voted against it. The other member who was not excused and also did not vote was Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon. My apologies to Sen. Murphy.

Comments (4)

Thanks for the rules. Is only a simple majority required for breaking the tie?

Posted by Nancy | April 3, 2008 2:35 AM

Fines! Demerits!

Legislators have a job to pass bills, just like quarterbacks have a job to pass the ball.

What does the coach / team manager do if the QB is indecisive and stands and looks around and cannot decide which way to pass?

Promote the second stringer, probably, to starter.

So why does Senate President Metzen have to plead with the senators, "Pretty Please, VOTE!?"

Personally, I think a senator should be fined $1,000 for failing to cast a vote, since failure to do so is a Rules Violation. If there are rules, there should be consequences.

[And there may be other unintended consequences, for this particular indecision, which time will tell.]

I think the Commish should take away league points from the Senators that broke the rules and failed to cast a vote.

So how many points is a rule violation worth?

I'm feeling harsh . . . it should be worth more than a bill filing (one point) and maybe as much as an override notwithstanding (100) . . .

Posted by Nancy | April 3, 2008 7:18 AM

Thats a good idea Nancy, there should be a provision that allows the Commish to issue demerits and take away points from lawmakers that shy away from the controversial votes. I think about 10 points would be good, but I don't like taking away points from teams when its their lawmakers who are delinquent, not them. Maybe next year we can have something like that.

One of the tough things about the debate was that the official Senate rules aren't totally clear. If I had to say which side I thought made the better case, it was clearly the Republicans. Sen. Pogemiller made the argument that the Senate rules don't apply to the Committee of the Whole, which is what they call the whole Senate, in the Senate chambers, when they're offering amendments on a certain piece of legislation. But under that view, you wouldn't ever be able to force a lawmaker on record. Later someone pointed out that under another provision, you can request that a member or members vote, but it must be done prior to the role closing. Sen. Metzen says every time that a vote is taken "All members wishing to vote, will do so now," or something to that effect, but that isn't the same as demanding everyone present vote. I think he was joking out of frustration when he asked them pretty please to vote.

To be fair to the lawmakers I listed above, I was not in the chamber so I don't know for a fact that they were abstaining from voting, but only Sen. Murphy was excused during that time at the end of the session, when they typically list members excused, so I don't see how they weren't in there.

The other important point you make is that this amendment was a significant piece of legislation. If lawmakers were present, I can think of no good reason why they wouldn't want to weigh in. I doubt anyone wants to vote against something that looks like it would help vets, if only for the political repercussions in a time of war(s). Sen. Bakk said the amendment would cost somewhere around $25 million a year I believe, so there was a significant cost implication, and an argument about the fairness of exempting certain people from the income tax could've been made too. Ideally, I would have liked to have heard more reasons from lawmakers, other than Sen. Ortman, who sponsored the bill, why they supported or opposed it.

In the session so far today, Sen. Pogemiller is being a real stickler about everyone voting. I don't think he was happy about the half hour divergence yesterday.

Posted by Michael Marchio | April 3, 2008 11:49 AM

Thanks Michael.

Life is tough when you're the mommy.

Posted by Nancy | April 3, 2008 10:45 PM