Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 17 2012
Path to end of Minnesota legislative session still fuzzy
A stadium-construction bill may have a new life after it suddenly stalled Wednesday, but even some of its backers question the most critical issue it always has faced: funding.
A Republican proposal to eliminate a requirement that some workers belong to unions may not have enough GOP votes to pass.
The effort to pay back schools money the state borrowed from them faces a dark future after Gov. Mark Dayton and a key commissioner say it takes too much money out of the state budget reserve.
The list of issues with questionable futures is long. And the work goes on under a cloud of a Senate sex scandal.
Of major issues, one to require voters to produce photographic identifications appears to have the clearest route to passage. That only is because the Republican-pushed concept is a constitutional amendment proposal that skips Democrat Dayton and his opposition to the concept.
Dayton has signed into law seven mostly minor bills this year, but there has been no action on most of the 2,145 bills that were introduced through Friday (and 3,000 that remain alive from last year). None of the bills that the governor signed were priorities legislators discussed before the session began Jan. 24.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he hopes the 2012 session can adjourn in mid-April, even with the long list of remaining issues.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, is not so optimistic, but still holds to his plan to leave by April 30.
The state constitution requires the Legislature to wrap up no later than May 21, but no one is predicting it will last that long.
The Vikings stadium bill is an example of where many bills stand: in limbo.
A bill by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, to provide the Vikings a loan for a new stadium passed the Senate Commerce Committee Friday. While it is not likely to survive as is – with the Vikings, Dayton and other stadium backers opposed to it – the Chamberlain measure could end up being the basis for the final bill, if there is one.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the Chamberlain bill is “amendable” with a new stadium measure.
The bill from the team, Dayton, key legislative supporters and Minneapolis suddenly ran aground Wednesday when it became apparent the Senate committee hearing the proposal did not have the votes to pass it. That meant it missed Friday’s deadline for a bill to pass its first committee, but the Chamberlain bill did meet the deadline, so lawmakers can replace his language with whatever comes out of a new agreement from stadium backers.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said he expects that new agreement in the coming week.
The biggest problem with the stadium plan is the same as has faced it during the 14 months a working group has labored over the bill: how stadium construction should be funded. Charities and many legislators question whether enough money can be produced by the bill’s provision to allow charities to use electronic pulltabs and bingo games.
“I’m not sure I could vote for this bill today,” Senjem said, and he is one of three bill authors.
“As it is, I think it needs a lot more work,” added Zellers, not a bill supporter.
Senjem is willing to help push the bill through the process, and on Friday Zellers indicated the bill can proceed even if he is not enthused about it.
Asked if the stadium plan was dead, Zellers responded: “It’s way too early to say anything like that.”
Among other issues remaining in question as lawmakers look to the home stretch:
• Senjem said the GOP’s much-ballyhooed right-to-work constitutional amendment proposal may not have enough votes to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. There also are questions if there are enough votes in the House.
The amendment would remove the requirement that all workers in a unionized company belong to the union or pay dues. The proposal’s only committee hearing drew hundreds of laborers Monday.
• Republicans trumpet House passage of a bill to spend $430 million more to pay back $2.4 billion that the state delayed in school district payments. Senators are expected to follow suit.
However, Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said that money should remain in the state’s budget reserve fund.
• Senate Republican leaders say a scandal involving former Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, is not affecting their work, but Bakk said that it and other issues have dishonored the Senate.
Koch aide Michael Brodkorb claims the Senate fired him because he had an affair with Koch, but women Senate staffers have not lost their jobs after affairs with male senators. His attorneys threaten to interview senators and staffers about affairs as part of a lawsuit against the Senate.
• A House-Senate conference committee soon will begin discussing whether to remove seniority as the only reason used when schools decide to lay off teachers.
It is unclear what Dayton may do with the bill.
• Republicans want to reduce a statewide property tax on businesses and eventually phase it out.
However, Dayton has not had kind words for the proposal.
• There appears to be general agreement to fund public works projects by the state selling bonds.
However, Republicans want to spend less than Dayton and prefer to concentrate on fixing existing buildings rather than constructing new ones.
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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.