Special session comes to an end, government shutdown avoided

For the first time in 110 years the Legislature held a session outside the Capitol, across the street in the State Office Building while the House and Senate chambers undergo renovation.

Relationships between DFLers may also need some rebuilding.

The divisions among Democrats were on full display during the special session in the state Senate. As lawmakers met in a hot, cramped hearing room, DFL Senators from the metro area took aim at a bill funding the state ag department, the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Senator Scott Dibble of Minneapolis said the bill negotiated by DFL Governor Mark Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt contained several provisions that would hurt the environment.

“I think this bill is a historic bill. I think it’s a historic step backwards on what we’ve been able to build in the Minnesota over the course of many generations now.

Dibble and other Twin Cities Democrats objected to the bill’s elimination of the MPCA’S citizens board and a provision that exempts waste from copper nickel mining from solid waste rules.  The bill’s sponsor DFL Senator David Tomassoni of Chisholm said overall, with requirements for buffer strips between cropland and water supported by the governor and money to help turkey farmers struggling with avian flu, the measure was worth supporting.

“If we don’t pass this today we are in imminent position of laying off state workers in all of these departments and a partial governmentshutdown which I don’t think is a good thing for Minnesota.”

The first time the Senate voted on the bill it fell one vote short of the 34 necessary to pass. Eventually the Senate voted to change the bill and remove the provisions on the citizen’s board and copper nickel mining, even though DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakkhad signed an agreement not to support any amendments.

The Senate then passed the bill and sent it to the House, which promptly removed the changes and sent the bill back to the Senate. At that point, Bakk and Senate Republicans were able to scare up the votes to pass the bill.  Republican Senate Minority Leader DavidHann said all but one of his members voted for the bill because Bakk promised him to pass significant tax cuts next year.

“We did have an agreement between the caucuses that we would have a tax bill and there would be significant tax reduction next year.”

With much less controversy, the House and Senate also passed new versions of two other budget bills the governor vetoed to force the special session:  A K-12 budget bill that increases spending by $525 million over the next two years, and a jobs and energy bill. They also passed a public works construction bill that will provide money to finish the Capitol renovation and provide  disaster relief for last year’s flooding.  And they passed a bill that spends money for the environment, parks and cultural programs that comes from the legacy amendment sales tax. House Speaker Daudt says even though it required overtime the session was productive.

“This was one of those days where you never knew exactly how the session was going to end. Ultimately, we lived up to the agreement that all of the leaders and the governor signed yesterday and finished the session within the outline of the agreement and within our time slot.”

Lawmakers left about $800 million of the $1.9 billion surplus unspent. They’ll be back in March of 2016 to start arguing again over what to do with it.