Rotunda Ramblings: Chaotic Ending with Outbursts, Shouts, Confusion

It isn’t a new scenario that a legislative session would end in a chaotic frenzy. It has happened many times before. The first time that I remember this was in 1979 when, with a 67-67 split in the House, Speaker Rod Searle faced an angry House DFL caucus that had been attempting to seize majority control by challenging the right of a Republican member accused of campaign violations to be seated as a member. DFL House leaders were shouting and banging their shoes on their desks. In 1986, among raucous shouts from the floor, a Republican member gave a Nazi salute with extended right arm to his own Speaker Dave Jennings as he was protesting his perception of the Speaker’s authoritarian, dictatorial manner of running the House debate.

This year’s affair did not reach those proportions, but it did end with a loud outcry from DFL members as Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, rammed a jobs and energy bill through just seconds before the mandated midnight ending of the session.

The bill began life in the Senate only 45 minutes earlier when Senator David Tomassoni amended a 93 page “delete all” to HF1437. HF1437 had been an omnibus agriculture policy bill. The amendment eliminated all of the agriculture language and replaced it with the 93 page Jobs and Energy bill language. After short debate, the bill was passed by the Senate and was transmitted to the House just minutes before midnight. See for yourself below.

All of this makes great late night theatrics for political junkies, but probably would not pass muster for many members of the public had they been up watching at midnight.

The facts are that a number of items remained undone in spite of the hurried pace and late hours of the last days. There was not enough time to pass the legacy bill in the Senate. That bill included funding for the Governor’s buffer push.

No revisors bill was passed, which could have fixed the myriad of technical errors, which assuredly were made during the final rush of bills.

The tax bill was abandoned two days before the end. Our proposal for farm property tax relief, which had gotten included, was lost.

Another casualty was a transportation bill. Both bodies put forth bills that funded transportation at a rate of 7 to 11 billion over the next ten years, but almost no funding occurred in the end. Transportation funding for rural areas was a priority.

A bonding bill did not make it through the process. A needed revamping of the U of Minn. Veterinary Diagnostic lab will not take place.

Some good bills did pass, but …

Two bills that did pass include the agriculture and environment finance bill and the K-12 funding bill. However, the Governor vetoed the K-12 bill because he did not get his way on universal pre-kindergarten education.

The ag and environment finance bill is also in question as the environmental community is rallying DFL legislators to pressure the Governor’s office for a veto. They are unhappy that the MPCA citizens board was repealed, among other issues. The Governor may also be interested in pushing further on the buffer language as he did not get all that he wanted.

There was some progress made leading to the closure of the ag portion of the finance bill. The following identifies successes for our association:

  • Farm Business Management education was funded at $2 million each year  ($2.4 million requested)
  • Rapid Response funding for plant and animal diseases was increased $600,000 each year ($1 million requested)
  • $5.9 million additional will be available for production research starting 2017 ($15 million requested)
  • A truck wash Biosecurity provision was included
  • MPCA citizens Board was repealed

Buffer language was included in the bill. Whether it is good or bad depends on your point of view. The Governor wanted 50-foot buffers on all public ditches. The compromise is 16.5 feet required by 2018, but probably includes both public and private ditches that receive benefit from a public ditch. There is also some question whether or not the 16.5 feet may be mowed or hayed.

What’s next

Based on the present discussions, it seems a “Special Session” is likely. This isn’t new either. Since statehood in 1858, we have had 50 Special Sessions with some of those notable. The 1862 session was caused by an Dakota Conflict. In 1919, one was called to ratify Woman’s Suffrage. In 1933, it was unemployment caused by the depression. In 1954, Korean War veterans were the topic. Many have been called to deal with disaster relief for floods or tornadoes. One was even called to “save” Dayton’s department store from a hostile takeover. Another was called to build a “Twins” baseball stadium.

But since 1990 there has been a disturbing trend. Seventeen have been called since 1990.  Nine have been called because of unfinished legislative business.

Since 2001, 5 special sessions were necessary because the governor and legislative leaders failed to agree on a budget. The difference this year is that Minnesota has a significant budget surplus, not a deficit.

Yet the Governor will have to call a special session given his veto. The location of the session is up in the air as the capital is under renovation. The topics included are still up in the air, as well.

  • Richard Wurtzberger

    What Minnesota needs is a different govenor