Special session finish in sight?

Some people at a Capitol rally Wednesday were calling for Gov. Mark Dayton to reject the budget bills heading for his desk. Tim Nelson | MPR News

Minnesota lawmakers were back at the state Capitol Thursday for what they hope is the final day of a prolonged special session.

A handshake agreement announced Monday night by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and top legislative leaders called for an immediate special session to conclude by 7:00 a.m. Wednesday. But negotiations on the details of the remaining bills, as well as the processing of those bills, took longer than expected.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Thursday a few loose ends in those bills still need to be tied up. Gazelka, R-Nisswa, also noted that his caucus, which holds a slim one-seat advantage, is not at full strength and will need some DFL help to pass the remaining bills.

“If we have a global agreement, we will keep moving forward,” Gazelka said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said he always believed it would take a bipartisan budget solution in the Senate. But Bakk, DFL-Cook, stopped short of making any commitments.

“I’m not going to put up votes for what is a lousy deal,” Bakk said. “It’s going to have to be something the governor is willing to support.”

Both chambers need to act on finance bills for state government and health and human services, and hope to pass a bonding bill to fund public works construction projects. The Senate also needs to vote on bills that already passed in the House, including education and transportation.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, predicted a smooth finish to the special session and added that it could be done by 9:00 p.m. Thursday.

“I think we can get everything wrapped up today,” Daudt said. “I think everybody wants to be done.”

But many Democrats are also insisting that they need sufficient time to read and debate the bills.

Shortly after the day’s Senate session began, Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said Republicans had unfairly accused Democrats of stalling.

“Our only opportunity to respond to these large budget bills has been through debate and amendment on the Senate floor,” Cohen said. “I don’t think in an respect the minority has dragged that out.”