With 3 days left to go, major legislation remains stuck

Published 10:06 am Friday, May 20, 2016

By Tim Pugmire

MPR.org/90.1 FM

ST. PAUL — With just three days left in the 2016 session for passing bills, top House and Senate leaders, along with representatives of Gov. Mark Dayton, met late into the night to try to reach deals on the big outstanding issues.

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The transportation bill and tax bill left over from last session are still unresolved. They’re also working on a supplemental budget bill and a bonding bill.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk showed no signs of panic when they emerged from one of their closed-door negotiations.

Daudt said he wasn’t worried about meeting the deadline.

“I’ve said all along we’re going to keep working until the job is done,” he said. “Obviously we have some differences, and it’s that deadline at the end that forces people to come together. The more we talk, the closer we get, and we’ll just keep working.”

Bakk also sounded upbeat. He said they’re in a good position to reach agreements and finish the work.

“The whole legislative process is about relationships. If leaders have good relationships and conference committee chairs have good relationships and they’re willing to have a give-and-take process and willing to maybe accept some things that make them uncomfortable, each willing to do that,” he said. “But it starts with good relationships between the players, and I think we have that.”

The leaders said their talks focused primarily on the supplemental budget and agreeing on how much of the $900 million surplus to spend. They’ve set aside the contentious transportation funding issue.

Earlier in the day, Dayton said he was still hopeful for a transportation bill this session. If it doesn’t happen, he said he wants $500 million left unspent and available for next session. Dayton said the end-of-session push is a test of whether divided government can work for Minnesota.

“I’m banking that those 201 legislators are going to put the best interests of Minnesota first and foremost. I think they’ve heard enough from their constituents all over the state — I certainly have — who say, ‘Get it done. Get it done this session,’ “ he said. “We don’t want to wait another year to see if we can move Minnesota forward. I’m still hopeful that they’ll face up to that responsibility.”

Lawmakers are also now trying to craft a compromise bonding bill after the House rejected an $800 million package of public construction projects Thursday. The vote came just one day after Republican leaders unveiled their plan.

But the bill fell 12 votes short of the 81-vote super majority required for passage. Nearly all DFL lawmakers and a few Republicans voted against the bill.

DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said Republicans never asked Democrats for input. Thissen said the result was a bad, overly partisan bill.

“This bill is an unfortunate, sad joke that House Republicans are playing on Minnesotans,” he said. “We should vote no on this bill and get to work on a real bonding bill that will create jobs and strengthen communities in every part of this state. The clock is ticking. Let’s get to work.”

Republicans argued that their bonding bill was a reasonable size and was geographically balanced.

Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said his bill focused on priority needs.

“There are no stadiums in this bill. There’s no civic centers in this bill. This bill is full of the infrastructure that benefits everyone in the state of Minnesota.”

Earlier this month, Senate Democrats failed to pass a $1.5 billion bonding bill when they fell one vote short of a supermajority.

Even so, the bonding bill isn’t dead. A conference committee will try to put together a new version that can be voted on before the session runs out.

As negotiations on the big issues plod along, Dayton has been signing lots of smaller bills into law. The latest batch of 22 bills included a background check requirement for driving instructors, new regulations for eyelash extension services and criminal penalties for the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, also known as revenge porn.