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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published August 23 2012

Minnesota Legislature: Short disaster session begins today

ST. PAUL – Minnesota legislative leaders hope their members listen to them and make today’s special session to provide disaster relief a smooth one.

“We will be talking to people” Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said, his way of saying he will ask colleagues not to gum up the works.

But things do not always go as smoothly as planned.

For example, Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said Thursday he has concerns about the disaster bill and other issues that he might bring up.

In the House, some Republicans are looking quietly into whether they can take action against first-term Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, who Wednesday said he will stop his re-election campaign after a police report revealed he engaged in oral sex with a 17-year-old boy in a rest area.

An agreement signed by all four legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton allows only the disaster bill to be considered. The governor said Wednesday he does not think the agreement allows lawmakers to vote on any other issues.

The special session was called to consider a nearly $168 million package to provide relief to areas affected by June floods and a July windstorm. The signed agreement among leaders and Dayton says there can be no changes without all five signing off.

Relief money mostly would be used to cover local and state government flood and wind damage expenses, but the bill also would provide loans and temporary housing for some affected homeowners.

Floods affected parts of northeastern Minnesota in June, with damage such as large holes in city streets and highways being wiped out. About the same time, other parts of the state were affected to a lesser extent, including Goodhue and Dakota counties.

A couple of weeks later, high winds along U.S. 2 in northern Minnesota blew down trees and caused other damage.

Most of the money goes to flood relief, but $7.9 million is set aside for wind damage clean-up costs.

Senjem said he expects more requests for aid to come in the next regular session, which begins in early January.

“There may be more (storm expenses) that come up,” said Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, a co-sponsor of the disaster bill.

While legislative leaders say they want a quick session, Senjem added: “We can’t necessarily take people’s microphones away.”

Dayton had said he expects lawmakers to speak on various topics, but he wants legislative leaders to keep their word on taking no other votes.

“There certainly are a lot of other issues on the table,” Howe said, adding that he will not bring up issues he would like to see addressed.

Special session on TV, Web

ST. PAUL – Minnesotans may follow today’s special session of the Legislature on the Web or the Minnesota Channel as lawmakers consider approving a disaster-relief bill.

Morning committee meetings and afternoon House and Senate sessions will be aired on public television stations statewide on the Minnesota Channel and on many cable television systems. Much of the coverage will be live, but some will be delayed when there are meeting in both chambers at the same time.

Live coverage also will be provided by the House and Senate via Webcasts.

Links to the Webcasts and a list of stations that carry the broadcast can be found at http://tinyurl.com/MNlegTV

Davis works for Forum Communications.

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