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Associated Press, Published January 25 2012

A guide to the Minnesota Legislature

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature convened Tuesday, opening a session that optimistic members say could end as early as April 2 without the bitter divisions that ultimately shut down most of state government for part of last summer. Pessimists, and many veterans, are probably braced for something closer to the statutory deadline for adjournment: April 30.

For citizens, here's a grab bag of information about their lawmakers and a guide for getting involved.

WHO'S IN CHARGE: Republicans rule, with a 37-30 majority in the Senate and 72-62 edge in the House.

MAN'S WORLD?: Still mostly the case at the Capitol, where men outnumber women about 2 to 1 in each chamber.

EDUCATION: It pays to be a college graduate if you want to break into the Legislature; 87 percent of Senate members hold at least a bachelor's degree; in the House, it's 81 percent.

AVERAGE AGE: It's 53. Longest serving House members are 74-year-old Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and 71-year-old Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, both first elected to their seats in 1972. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, is 74 and the longest-serving senator, now in his 10th term.

HOW DIVERSE?: Not very. This session only 7 legislators out of 201 are self-reported minorities: 4 black, 2 Hispanic and 1 American Indian. Still, this may be an improvement in diversity- — official legislative records list only 31 confirmed minorities in legislative history.

OCCUPATIONS: More legislators list "business" as their occupation than any other — 21 percent of senators and 22 percent of House members. The second largest chunks in each chamber? Educators make up 15 percent of the House, and 12 percent of senators work in finance. Attorneys make up 10 percent of the Senate and 11 percent of the House.

PAY MUCH?: Not bad for part-time work; the salary in both chambers is $31,140.90. That figure hasn't risen since 1999. Legislators also get a per diem, though it has shrunk from last year: $86 in the Senate, $66 in the House for each day they're in session.

LONG ODDS: Lawmakers will launch thousands of bills, but few will go anyplace. In last year's regular and special session, 3,286 bills were introduced. Only 106 made it into law.

WHO'S MY LEGISLATOR?: Good question, since that's the one most frequently asked of Senate and House information offices. The Legislature's website has a tool that lets you simply punch in your ZIP code: http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/

CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE?: Sure you can, if you take the time. You can track bills by topic, authors and committees by searching that same website (www.leg.state.mn.us/ ). You can even set up an account that sends you email on your favorite bills.

CAN I WATCH?: Of course. It's the people's house, after all, and all legislative floor sessions and committee meetings are open. House and Senate galleries are on the third floor, and seating is first come, first served. What could be more democratic than that? For a schedule of hearings, go to — yep — www.leg.state.mn.us . If you don't want to leave the comfort of your Internet connection, live-streaming video of all legislative meetings can be found on the same site.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.