By Don Davis and Danielle Nordine
Signs indicate the end of the 2012 Minnesota legislative session will come soon, but likely not tonight.
House leaders said they could not take up a Vikings stadium construction bill, the last major issue of the 2012 legislative session, until 10 p.m. at the earliest. Senators must wait 12 hours before taking up the measure, so cannot debate the $975 million stadium plan until Thursday.
And that all assumes negotiators can work out details of the funding plan in time.
Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said his experience as a committee chairman indicates that once negotiators reach an agreement, at least four hours is needed to prepare the bill and make copies.
If the bill would pass overnight, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, suggested that his members could vote to go home for the year.
“We only have a few things to do,” Dean said, primarily take a final stadium vote.
Members such as Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, have travel plans (he is to leave for Las Vegas Thursday morning).
There are other reasons to leave, too, Dean added. For instance, Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, remains in pain after a rotator cuff surgery last week.
The House will adjourn “as soon as we can,” Dean said.
This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, told senators not running again to have their traditional retirement speeches ready in the next “24 hours,” an indication that he, too, expected an end to the session.
“We have the stadium conference committee working,” Senjem said, even though there has been no public notice and reporters who tried to cover the meeting were told to leave because it was private.
The Senate chaplain gave a hint that the end is near, opening the session saying it was “the last hours of session.”
After today, the Legislature has one more day to pass bills under a constitutional limitation. However, the governor could call a special session if lawmakers do not finish work.
House Tax Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, got two bill passed this afternoon and senators expected to debate them after 10 p.m.
The Legislature defines a “day” as ending at 7 a.m., and lawmakers often go to the limit. After they adjourn, retiring members give speeches, often very emotional.
Republican leaders either were out of public view or not talking about whether a Vikings stadium bill could receive final votes today before lawmakers head home for the year. It and the tax bills were the only remaining business items.
House and Senate negotiators met with legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton aides today in private State Office building gatherings across the street from the Capitol building.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, did not like those private meetings. In a tweet, he said they might break the state open meetings law.
But House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, told reporters who tried to enter the meeting that it was private and there was no quorum present.
The issue of public stadium meetings was part of a heated Senate discussion late Tuesday.
Some members accused bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and others of developing the plan behind closed doors.
They said they did not get the chance to include their ideas in the plan.
“I think everyone wants to build a stadium,” Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said. “I think people have a lot of different ideas on how to get it done.”
Howe said that when members came up with new ideas “we were told ‘absolutely no.’”
Some also said the stadium construction bill is being pushed through the Legislature.
“We’ve been raced,” Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said. “The first debate was, what, four weeks after deadline?”
Others, such as Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, worried that despite all the discussion the bill that come out of a joint House-Senate conference committee will be very similar to the original bill.
Rosen said many times the talks, which went on for months, were open to any members that wanted to participate. She called them “transparent,” although reporters and the public could not attend.
“Next time … I’ll send a personal invitation” to lawmakers to be involved in similar discussions, she joked.
The reason she encouraged members to stick with the original plan is because it was palatable to all the parties involved, she said.
“I think, members, you have to step back for a second and respect the work that was done by the work group,” she said. “We worked together for hours on this bill and it was a compromise.”