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The sun shines on the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on May 15. (AP photo)
The sun shines on the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on May 15. (AP photo)

Special session is underway

It might be a long weekend at the Capitol.

The special session to fund state government began Friday with immediate doubts—courtesy of House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown—that House Republicans would cooperate on an agreement to limit the session to a single marathon day.

“I think it’s probably a minimum of three days,” Daudt told reporters Friday morning. “We’ll see what happens.”

The agreement struck by Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, limits the special session to one day. It began Friday at 10 a.m. If their deal holds, it would end Saturday morning at 7 a.m.

But for that to happen, both the House and Senate would have to suspend their rules every time a bill is brought forward. Normally, every bill needs a first, second and third reading, and each must happen on a different day. To do otherwise, as the special session agreement contemplates, requires a suspension of the rules.

That requires a two-thirds vote of the whole body. In other words, minority votes would be needed. And those votes, in the House at least, do not appear to be forthcoming.

“There is no agreement at this time to suspend the rules or on a bonding bill,” Daudt told reporters Friday morning. “So at this point we’re not planning to vote to suspend the rules.”

Interestingly, the minority caucus did support suspending the rules on Senate File 1—an omnibus agriculture budget bill that cleared the Senate earlier today. It then passed the House. They did the same for Senate File 3, the omnibus Legacy funds bill, which was being debated at the time of this writing.

Whether that means Republicans now support a global suspension of the rules was not immediately.

Upper chamber

In the Senate, Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Crown, appeared to be living up to an agreement that Gazelka said they’d struck to suspend rules in the upper chamber. At this writing three omnibus funding bills were already passed. They include the new omnibus public safety/judiciary bill—now called Senate File 8—which passed 67-0 in the Senate on Friday afternoon.

The big three leaders’ special session pact also included an agreement that no amendments would be offered on the floor. There the situation in the Senate appears more unsettled.

During presentation of Senate File 7—the environment omnibus funding bill—Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, brought an amendment to ban the solvent trichloroethylene. Reports surfaced earlier this year that a White Bear Township manufacturer had vented the carcinogen near a residential neighborhood for years.

Gazelka asked Wiger to withdraw that amendment, saying that adding language to special session omnibus bills that have already gone through hard-fought negotiations would “absolutely derail the process.”

But Wiger declined to pull the amendment.

“When we signed up and took an oath of office we were empowered, not muzzled,” he said.

Bakk took Wiger’s side, saying that he had instructed minority senators members that they could amend bills “that are amendable” if they “feel really strongly” that they ought to offer changes. Bakk pledged the minority caucus would not abuse that privilege.

That bill was tabled, putting it on ice for the moment.

Hortman said Monday that she thought the session could be limited to a single day if the Republican minority cooperates with the agreement. If not, she said, it will take three days.

Either way, she intends to press forward until all the bills are passed. That could mean a session that lasts through Friday and Saturday and into Sunday.

“We’re going to keep going until we’re done—people of the state of Minnesota deserve a budget,” she said. “We’re just in overtime and we need to finish up that over time and get a win for the people of Minnesota.”

Daudt said it is possible the session could last as long as five days. He noted that a Health and Human Services omnibus had not yet been posted as of Friday morning. Nor had a $500 million bonding bill that was part of the leaders’ final budget agreement.

Gazelka told reporters Friday that he hopes things move quickly. He hasn’t, for instance, instructed his members to forgo the purchase of charcoal for their Memorial Day grill out.

“I am not going to be a happy camper if we’re here Sunday,” Gazelka said. “We can get it all done today. It just takes a little bit of cooperation from everybody.”

Added Gazelka, “If we can do that, we can all enjoy Memorial Day weekend and also all the things that are circle around that that holiday.”

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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