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Lobbyists feeling the heat

For lobbyists, the frenzy of influencing lawmakers at the end of the session isn’t exactly a prescription for a healthy lifestyle.

“It’s the worst time for your health,” said veteran lobbyist Andy Kozak.

Despite generally poor nutrition and lack of exercise, Kozak said watching the end of the session deal-making between lawmakers puts lobbyists on the edges of their seats.

“It’s actually fascinating. You have a few issues to watch the compromises unfold,” said Kozak, a North State Advisors principal whose lobbying career goes back to the early 1970s.

This is the last week of the 2006 regular session. The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn next Monday.

Usually at session’s end, lobbyists tune into conference committees to keep tabs on the final decision-making on key pieces of legislation.

The first weeks in May, however, have been somewhat different than past sessions due to a dearth of conference committee action, said Gary Carlson, intergovernmental relations director at the League of Minnesota Cities. In recent weeks, for example, conferees have worked on eminent domain reform and the bonding bill. But not much else had landed in conference as of last week.

“There really have been few conference committees that have been ongoing. As every session is unique, in my mind this session is unique because there seems to be little structure to what is going on and little certainty as to what’s next,” Carlson said.

The bonding bill to finance construction projects is a major item that grabs lobbyists’ attention.

Barry Tilley, a contract lobbyist with Capitol Hill Consultants Inc., represents Dakota County, which has a couple of projects vying for a place in the bill. He noted that a lot of the groundwork for considering a bonding project must take place early in the process.

“Access gets a lot more constrained [at the end of session]. If you haven’t made your arguments before the last few days, it’s hard to get anything considered,” Tilley said.

This session is noteworthy by the wide gaps that exist on issues like stadium funding and the dedication of sales tax for environmental and other purposes, said Dee Long, a former House speaker and a lobbyist for Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy.

“On certain bills, there are such wide philosophical differences. … It’s going to be hard to reconcile them,” Long said.

The November elections and last year’s government shutdown over a budget impasse puts pressure on lawmakers to end the session on time.

“There’s much more motivation to either reach consensus — pass conference reports, send them to the governor and get out of here — or just let an issue die,” Long said.

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