Aid for poor included in new laws

Thousands of poor Minnesota families begin getting more state aid Wednesday as the new state budget begins.

The $42 billion, two-year overall state budget provides more housing assistance, as well as lower child care costs.

“Too many children are living in poverty without proper housing and other basics,” Assistant Commissioner Jim Koppel of the Human Services Department said. “These investments will help families trying to stretch their monthly budgets to care for their children and provide them healthier, more successful lives.”

Nearly 20,000 families getting aid from the Minnesota Family Investment Program will receive an additional $110 a month to help with housing costs. The housing assistance getting a boost was begun by the 2013 Legislature and increased this May.

The grants will be available to people who do not live in public housing or receive other rental assistance.

Families will pay less for child care through a state program that lawmakers gave an additional $10 million. State officials say the extra money should reduce a child care waiting list that now counts 4,500 families. It should help more than 600 children.

“Stable housing and strong early childhood experiences are two of the best ways to ensure these children have a bright future,” Koppel said.

Most state law changes come Aug. 1, but since the state fiscal year is July 1 to June 30, Wednesday also features a good many changes that are included in the state budget.

Education, one of the most-discussed issues in the Legislature this year, will experience a number of changes other than more state money (most notably for early learners).

One new provision allows experienced and well-trained teachers from other states to have an easier time getting Minnesota teacher licenses.

School districts will be allowed to start classes before Labor Day this year, since the holiday comes late. However, there are reports from some districts that this is too late to change next school year’s schedule.

Other new laws include:

— Drivers participating in Uber and other transportation-sharing services using private vehicles are required to carry insurance.

— Nursing homes and senior citizen organizations will be allowed to conduct bingo more than twice a week, which now is the limit.

— Funding is available to combat recruitment of Minnesotans by terrorist organizations.

— The state political contribution rebate ends, which prompted political groups in recent weeks to push for contributions before the $50 refund expires.

 

Political chatter: Negotiations take a different path

This year’s negotiations to end the Minnesota legislative session could be called different, unusual, strange or, even, weird.

Of course, one difference — although far from unique — is they did not produce a budget before the May 18 constitutional end of the session. That aside, the process was, er, uncommon.

One example is that fewer leaders than normal were taking a direct part in talks.

As the regular session neared an end, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, excused themselves from a meeting with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and went into one of the governor’s residence rooms to negotiate their own deal.

The pair handed it to the governor, then went out to brief waiting media on the “deal,” not really saying that Dayton had not approved it.

As the Legislature tried to wrap up its work late May 18, negotiations continued into the last few minutes. But they failed, and Dayton vetoed three of eight state funding bills.

The big dispute was about education, in particular whether to fund Dayton’s top priority of sending all 4 year olds to school.

After the regular session, Dayton and Daudt became the chief negotiators. Bakk said his caucus could accept whatever the governor negotiated, although the senator and governor remained in close contact.

Dayton eventually gave up on his pre-kindergarten plan, in the name of wrapping up the budget. He promised to continue the debate in the remaining three years of his term.

Once the education debate ended, attention turned to a provision Dayton said was a must-do in special session: overturn part of a law he just signed into law that allows counties to hire private accountants to check their finances instead of using the state auditor.

Dayton, a former auditor, said that he would not call a special session without promises that lawmakers would overturn the clause.

But he eventually gave in on that, too, saying that it was more important to finish work on time than to press the auditor issue.

With that seemingly last disputed item out of the way, more disputes arose. They had to do with jobs, environment and energy legislation and in the end they appeared to be settled with little to-do.

The one thing Dayton would not give up on was his insistance that each of the Legislature’s four political caucuses promise that in a special session they would pass the remaining bills as negotiated, without changes. That is a common demand of governors who call special sessions, but then lose control over what lawmakers can do once they convene.

With Dayton insisting each of the four legislative leaders sign a promise that bills would not change, he ran into yet another snag. This time it was Senate Democrats, many of whom appeared to be distancing themselves from the environmental provisions they did not think were strong enough, threatening one of the budget bills.

Dayton finally decided the bills would pass, and he signed a document calling a special session hours before it started.

Move looks bad

Dayton said there is nothing illegal about an official in his administration leaving for a job with a medical marijuana company, but it does not look good.

Assistant Health Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala announced he is resigning from a position that included helping design the Minnesota medical marijuana program. In early July, he goes to work for Cottage Grove-based LeafLine Labs.

New IP leader

Minnesota Independence Party members have elected Mark Meyer of Lake Crystal state chairman.

He succeeds Mark Jenkins, who says he will remain active in the party.

Meyer has been involved in the party for years,

“We are the party serving the political needs of centrists, moderates and independents,” Meyer said. “We are the party of reform, small business and the working middle class. Working together we will move back to major party status and beyond.”

Phil Fuehrer of St. Paul was elected state party director.

Wolf delisting attempted

A U.S. House appropriations subcommittee is considering a provision to remove gray wolves from the endangered list, and forbidding courts from reviewing the decision.

A court ordered the wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes area to be protected. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., wants wolves to continue to be protected.

“This rider is a tremendous overreach that would interfere in the federal listing of endangered species,” McCollum said. “Our committee’s role is to appropriate the necessary funds to allow the expert staff of scientists and professionals to do their jobs working to protect endangered species. This bill should not be mandating which species do or do not require protection.”

She also said that the courts should be allowed to do their work.

Franken: Save mail

U.S. Sen. Al Franken tells the head of the U.S. Postal Service that northeastern Minnesota mail service has deteriorated since a Duluth mail processing facility closed.

In a letter to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, the Minnesota Democrat asked her to fix service problems. He said the problems hurt residents, businesses and communities across the region.

“People and businesses from Grand Rapids to Grand Portage rely on the postal service to get their mail — including notes from loved ones, checks, medicine, and newspapers — in a timely fashion,” Franken said. “Mail that used to take a day or two to arrive now takes at least three to five days, and that is simply unacceptable.”

Greater Minnesota issues on table at session end

The 2015 Minnesota Legislature convened at noon Jan. 6 with a $1 billion surplus and a greater Minnesota focus.

It ended Saturday morning (the House adjourned at 1:30 a.m., followed by the Senate at 1:56 a.m.) amid disputes, more than $800 million left unspent (after the surplus grew to $1.9 billion) and debating greater Minnesota-centric legislation.

In between, Democrats and Republicans alike failed in their priorities of a big-time boost in transportation funding. Republicans failed to lower taxes $2 billion. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton failed to get universal school for 4 year olds.

In the end, the Legislature passed a $42 billion, two-year budget, the level Dayton sought early in the year.

The governor signed the budget bills Saturday morning.

In a news conference Dayton said, “Last fall, Minnesota voters chose divided political leadership for our state. This legislative session ended in that same way: with legislators sharply divided over key issues, like the optimal amounts of taxes and expenditures, social services, and transportation improvements.

“Nevertheless, legislators achieved significant progress in providing better care and education for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens: children, who were previously considered too young for structured elementary education. Minnesotans at the other end of life will also benefit from increased funding for nursing homes, personal care attendants, and other supportive services.”

The governor added that another positive result is that the remaining surplus, combined with the budgeted reserve and cash flow account, has left the state with a positive balance of almost $2.5 billion.

“It stands in welcome contrast to the financial uncertainties of recent years,” Dayton said.

It was greater Minnesota issues that were deeply embedded in the final major debate of the special session, what to do with agriculture and environment funding issues.

There was little disagreement about agriculture spending, other than some Democrats saying that farm funding should have passed earlier so avian flu-related programs could be funded when poultry flocks were being hit hardest.

“When this bill becomes law, Minnesota will be able to continue to protect and preserve its food supply, make needed investments in research and have the funds necessary to respond to the avian flu outbreak.” said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who leads the House Agriculture Finance Committee.

The environmental issues, also mostly involving greater Minnesota, were hotly debated.

“This is a responsible bill that meets the needs of our state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, House environment chairman. “The bill also includes a number of policy reforms and initiatives that have bipartisan support.”

One provision in the wide-ranging bill disbands the Citizens’ Board, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency entity that makes pollution-related rulings.

A second part of the bill would ease regulations on proposed copper and nickel mines in the northeast by not requiring them to follow solid waste rules.

The two environmental issues delayed the end of the special session for hours. Senators removed them from the bill at one point, something many lawmakers said was a violation of rules Dayton and legislative leaders signed, promising to not support amendments during the special session.

House members quickly rejected the Senate changes, sending the bill back for a post-midnight Senate vote.

On the mining provision, Sen. Chris Eaton, D-Brooklyn Park, said she wanted the stricter law and said she does not oppose mining. “I oppose doing it when it pollutes the rest of our state.”

Bill sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, jumped up to protest: “The comment that it pollutes the rest of the state is an outrageous comment.”

Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said provisions in the environment bill help small, rural cities like Luverne, where he was mayor.

A part of the bill gives a break to small towns and counties in pollution rules. He said that even small cities can spend millions of dollars on sewage treatment, and in the end make only small improvements in water quality.

The House vote for the bill was 78-47 and in the Senate early Saturday it was 38-29, with Republicans carrying the weight in both chambers. The Senate took several votes on the bill and amendments before passing the same version as did the House.

Among provisions in the ag-environment bill are:

— Nearly $23 million for the avian flu outbreak.

— New grant program for cities with populations less than 45,000 in greater Minnesota to promote recycling.

— Repeal aquatic invasive species trailer decal law, and replacing it with a requirement that boat owners sign an affirmation stating they will abide by invasive species laws.

Another bill greater Minnesota watched is one funding public works projects, the last big bill up in the special session early Saturday.

House members voted 96-25 for the bill, with senators approving it 48-18.

The bill, funded by the state selling bonds, will spend $373 million, with $180 million of the bonds repaid by general tax revenue.

Projects in the bill include rerouting U.S. 53 in northeastern Minnesota to make way for a taconite mine expansion, local road and bridge work, flood prevention and recovery efforts, state Capitol renovation work, southwest Minnesota water supply work, college improvements and poultry testing facilities.

Railroad crossings also were funded, although not at the amount Democrats wanted: $3.8 million for a Willmar railroad crossing, $4.7 million for one in Plymouth and $460,000 for a third at Rainy River.

 

Lawmakers finish budget

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, wipes his brow as the Senate meets in special session in the State Office Building Friday, June 12, 2015. (Pioneer Press photo by Jean Pieri)

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, wipes his brow as the Senate meets in special session in the State Office Building Friday, June 12, 2015. (Pioneer Press photo by Jean Pieri)

Minnesota legislative leaders succeeded early Saturday to pass the final piece of the state budget.

The central issue was a controversial agriculture and environment finance bill that environmentalists said was too weak. After senators voted to change the bill, the Republican-controlled House restored the measure to its original form, sending it back to the Senate.

The Senate took three votes on the $780 million legislation before accepting the original bill. It eliminates the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board, which makes pollution-related decisions. The bill also exempts copper and nickel mining from solid waste rules.

Senate Democrats disagreed with the board and mining provisions, but the Republican-controlled House voted 78-47 in support of the original bill.

After efforts to amend it to be what some senators thought would be more environmental friendly, the Senate passed it 38-29 early Saturday. That was nine hours after the same bill received just 33 votes, one short of the number needed to pass.

Republicans and bill author Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, were not happy the bill was changed after legislative leaders and the governor signed an agreement not to support amendments.

“I am disappointed in these proceedings,” Tomassoni said.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, complained about “shenanigans” that led to the amendment. “I planned to come here to honor a deal.”

Lawmakers had relatively easy jobs approving two other bills needed for the state’s $42 billion budget, funding education and jobs and energy programs.

The special session was needed after Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills, with the education veto leaving a $17 billion hole in the budget.

Some of the most liberal Senate members said the agriculture-environment legislation would weaken environmental protections.

Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, urged senators to vote to return the ag-environment legislation to negotiators.

It is time to pass the legislation, Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.

“Everybody has things they want to fight for,” Eken said. “There is a time for compromise and that time has come.”

As an example of his willingness to compromise, Eken said that he would vote for the measure even though it did not contain a provision he wanted to allow Red River Valley communities’ sewage treatment plants to meet lower pollution standards as long as North Dakota maintains lower standards.

The bill “is the best that we can do,” Eken added.

The bill and others include more than $20 million to help farmers whose poultry flocks have been infected by avian flu, including state response, mental health aid to farmers and low-interest loans to those affected.

Perhaps the most politically important part of the bill is the impact failure to pass it would have had on state parks.

Dayton said his administration would quit taking state park camping reservations Monday if the bill did not pass. State parks and other Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department and other facilities would close on July 1 if there were no budget.

The failure of the bill “is not something that is going to be easy to negotiate,” Tomassoni said. “I feel that if we don’t pass this today we are in an imminent position of laying off state employees.”

One of the major complaints of Marty and other liberals was elimination of the Citizens’ Board, which makes many pollution-related decisions.

The bill also includes a Dayton provision to require crops be at least 16.5 feet away from public water. The governor pushed the buffer legislation, and compromised down from requiring 50 feet of vegetation buffers around all water.

Early Saturday, lawmakers approved spending far less than the governor wanted on public works projects around the state in a year that House Republicans say they did not need such legislation.

The House passed the bonding bill 96-25 and the Senate 48-18.

The public works bill would spend $373 million, $180 million of which would be financed by bonds to be repaid from general tax revenues. Other bonds would be paid by other funds, such as from gasoline tax.

Legislative notebook: Jobs-energy bill funds aircraft to jobless payments

Legislators approved a jobs and energy bill that funds workforce housing, job training and broadband expansion.

The bill passed in a Friday special legislative session provides a $4 million loan to Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft and allows Iron Range taconite workers and poultry workers with flocks affected by the avian flu to get extended unemployment benefits.

The legislation also provides more government assistance for Minnesotans who use propane for heat.

The House approved the bill 78-47, with the Senate voting 50-14.

The bill lowered spending from the current two-year budget, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, while making “important energy reforms that will continue pushing us toward our goal of cleaner and cheaper energy for Minnesotans.”

“We dispelled this ridiculous notion that higher energy prices create jobs,” he added.

But Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, said the bill will mean fewer jobs across the state.

He said that money Garofalo saved comes from greater Minnesota and Twin Cities economic development programs.

Expanding broadband in rural Minnesota will get $11 million, down from $20 million approved a year ago, $100 million that broadband supporters wanted and $30 million Gov. Mark Dayton suggested. House Republicans began the year with no broadband money in their plan.

“There is no question we have missed an incredible opportunity here,” Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, said about broadband.

 

Education advances

An education funding bill that provides more money to early-childhood programs, but without the governor’s wish for universal school for 4 year olds, passed easily.

The House voted for the legislation 115-10, with senators favoring it 53-12.

The legislation spends $17 billion of state tax money, out of a $42 billion, two-year budget.

The bill adds $550 million to what schools had expected to receive, boosting the per-pupil funding $236 per student; that is a 2 percent a year increase, costing $63 million.

It also adds money for pre-school scholarships that allows parents to spend the funds at variety of schools, not requiring youngsters to attend public facilities. That is a $17.5 million addition.

And the bill puts $12.7 million more into American Indian education and increases Head Start spending $10 million.

The bill is $125 million richer, but otherwise little changed from the one that lawmakers passed before their regular session ended on May 18.

“This bill is the third largest state investment in state history, and it prioritized both funding schools at a level that met their budget requirements and visionary investments in early childhood education,” Senate Education Chairman Charles Wiger, D-Maplewood, said.

 

Legacy vote easy

Lawmakers showed strong support for legislation, known as the legacy bill, to fund outdoors and arts programs.

The bill, which gets money from a 2008 sales tax increase approved by voters, would give $228.3 million to clean water programs, $97.8 million to outdoors, $89.4 million for parks and trails and $124.8 million for the arts.

Senators passed the legacy bill 54-10, with the House voting 116-6.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said one notable appropriation in the arts and cultural heritage portion of the bill is $3.3 million for Capitol art preservation as the building undergoes a restoration.

 

Homeless senators

With the state Capitol building closed for renovation, the Senate had no place to meet, forcing senators to set up shop in a House committee room.

“The majority caucus find themselves homeless,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, declared at one point Friday.

Friday’s meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.

After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.

“We are making a bit of history today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. “I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building.”

 

Bonding considered

Lawmakers early Saturday approved spending far less than the governor wants on public works projects around the state in a year that House Republicans say they did not need such legislation.

The House voted in favor of the bill 96-25 for the bill, with senators voting 48-18.

“In bonding, of course, size matters,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said of the bill he authored.

Too little public works money would garner too few votes, while too much would scare away those who want to contain spending.

“This bill for this year is about the right size,” Torkelson said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton called for a bill topping $800 million.

The public works bill would spend $373 million, $180 million of which would be financed by bonds to be repaid from general tax revenues. Other bonds would be paid by other funds, such as from gasoline tax.

One of major projects provides $171 million to reroute U.S. 53 in northeastern Minnesota as a taconite mine takes over the old highway. Those funds, as well as money for local roads and bridges, come from bonds to be financed by transportation revenues.

Also in the legislation is $38.5 million for flood-related expenditures for 2014 flood recovery, Otter Tail County lake flooding, Red River Valley flood-prevention efforts and similar projects. About $33 million would be provided to finish renovation of the state Capitol building.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said the $26.5 million for Willmar and St. Paul poultry testing facilities, both University of Minnesota projects, is important in light of avian flu outbreaks that hit his area especially hard.

Also in the bill is $29 million for the next phase of southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark rural water system, $1.2 million for Northeast Regional Corrections Center renovations, $10 million for sewage treatment facilities and $31.9 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects

Railroad crossings also were funded, although not at the amount Democrats wanted: $3.8 million for a Willmar railroad crossing, $4.7 million for one in Plymouth and $460,000 for a third at Rainy River.

 

GOP dumps on Dayton

Republican House members had special session information packets featuring a cover photo of water being dumped on Dayton’s head at last year’s State Fair, part of a charity fundraiser.

Democrats were not happy.

“It is appalling that the Republicans think it is OK to disrespect a sitting governor in the manner they did using taxpayer dollars,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.

 

Update: Controversial ag-environment bill fails Minnesota Senate vote

Minnesota senators defeated by a single vote the spotlight bill of today’s special legislative session, raising the possibility of a second special session.

On a 33-32 vote, the agriculture-environment funding legislation lost as other budget bills were being passed in an effort to finish the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. The bill needed 34 to pass.

There was an effort to bring the bill back up for another Senate vote. However, if the tally remains as is, the Legislature would be forced into a second special session.

Some of the most liberal Senate members said the agriculture-environment legislation would weaken environmental protections.

Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, urged senators to vote to return the legislation to negotiations. “Once we have the votes to reject it, then we sit down with the governor and the House.”

But bill sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, disagreed with Marty and others who complained about his legislation’s environmental impact. “I don’t think there is anything in this bill that reduces water quality or environmental standards in this state.”

It is time to pass the legislation, Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.

“Everybody has things they want to fight for,” Eken said. “There is a time for compromise and that time has come.”

As an example of his willingness to compromise, Eken said that he would vote for the measure even though it did not contain a provision he wanted that would allow Red River Valley communities’ sewage treatment plants to meet lower pollution standards as long as North Dakota maintains lower standards.

The bill “is the best that we can do,” Eken added.

The ag-environment bill was the focus of Friday’s special session because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that there might not be enough votes to pass it, which could force a second special budget session.

Friday’s special session was called after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed three of five budget bills, including the $17 billion education measure. The state budget is to be $42 billion for the next two years.

Friday’s meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.

After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.

“We are making a bit of history today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. “I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building.”

At stake in the ag-environment bill were the jobs of hundreds of state jobs and programs the legislation would fund.

The bill and others include more than $20 million to help farmers whose poultry folks have been infected by avian flu, including state response, mental health aid to farmers and low-interest loans to those affected.

Perhaps the most politically important part of the bill is the impact failure to pass it could have on state parks.

Dayton said his administration would quit taking state park camping reservations Monday if the bill did not pass. State parks and other Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department and other facilities would close July 1 if there were no budget.

The failure of the bill “is not something that is going to be easy to negotiate,” Tomassoni said. “I feel that if we don’t pass this today we are in an imminent position of laying off state employees.”

Marty disagreed: “It takes one day.”

One of the major complaints of Marty and other liberals was elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board, which makes some pollution-related decisions. A controversial western Minnesota dairy farm permit request set off opposition to the board, which Dayton opposed but eventually accepted in pre-special session negotiations.

The bill also includes a Dayton provision to require crops be at least 16.5 feet away from public water. The governor pushed the buffer legislation, and compromised down from requiring 50 feet of vegetation buffers around all water.

Besides complaining about environmental provisions, Marty also was unhappy that a multitude of policy issues were included in the finance bill. “The only way you will get a budget is to take all of these unacceptable provisions.”

Protesters stood outside the temporary Senate chambers and outside the office building urging senators to vote against the environmental provisions.

Session spotlight bill on hold

Minnesota senators at midday today delayed public debate on a bill funding environment and agriculture programs, the most controversial part of a historic special legislative session.

Senate Republicans wanted time to discuss the bill in private, so the Senate recessed for that and to allow members to get lunch.

Some of the most liberal Senate members said the agriculture-environment legislation would weaken environmental protections.

Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, urged senators to vote to return the legislation to negotiations. “Once we have the votes to reject it, then we sit down with the governor and the House.”

But bill sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, disagreed with Marty and others who complained about his legislation’s environmental impact. “I don’t think there is anything in this bill that reduces water quality or environmental standards in this state.”

It is time to pass the legislation, Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.

“Everybody has things they want to fight for,” Eken said. “There is a time for compromise and that time has come.”

As an example of his willingness to compromise, Eken said that he would vote for the measure even though it did not contain a provision he wanted that would allow Red River Valley communities’ sewage treatment plants to meet lower pollution standards as long as North Dakota maintains lower standards.

The bill “is the best that we can do,” Eken added.

The ag-environment bill was the focus of Friday’s special session because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that there might not be enough votes to pass it, which could force a second special budget session.

Friday’s meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.

After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.

“We are making a bit of history today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. “I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building.”

While the location was historic, the reason legislators gathered is not. At 11 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton called them into today’s session to finish passing the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. Four times since 2000 they have returned to St. Paul to finish passing budget bills.

The House went into session promptly at 10 a.m., but it took senators 15 more minutes to get to work.

Legislators used theater-type seats in cramped quarters in the committee rooms-turned-legislative chambers.

At stake in the ag-environment bill were the jobs of hundreds of state jobs and programs the legislation would fund.

The bill and others include more than $20 million to help farmers whose poultry folks have been infected by avian flu, including state response, mental health aid to farmers and low-interest loans to those affected.

Perhaps the most politically important part of the bill is the impact failure to pass it could have on state parks.

Dayton said his administration would quit taking state park camping reservations Monday if the bill did not pass. State parks and other Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department and other facilities would close on July 1 if there were no budget.

The failure of the bill “is not something that is going to be easy to negotiate,” Tomassoni said. “I feel that if we don’t pass this today we are in an imminent position of laying off state employees.”

Marty disagreed: “It takes one day.”

One of the major complaints of Marty and other liberals was elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board, which makes some pollution-related decisions. A controversial western Minnesota dairy farm permit request set off opposition to the board, which Dayton opposed but eventually accepted in pre-special session negotiations.

The bill also includes a Dayton provision to require crops be at least 16.5 feet away from public water. The governor pushed the buffer legislation, and compromised down from requiring 50 feet of vegetation buffers around all water.

Besides complaining about environmental provisions, Marty also was unhappy that a multitude of policy issues were included in the finance bill. “The only way you will get a budget is to take all of these unacceptable provisions.”

Protesters stood outside the temporary Senate chambers and outside the office building urging senators to vote against the environmental provisions.

Jobs bill passes

Legislators approved a jobs and energy bill that funds workforce housing, job training and broadband expansion.

It provides a $4 million loan to Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft and allows Iron Range taconite workers and poultry workers with flocks affected by the avian flu to get extended unemployment benefits.

The legislation also provides more government assistance for Minnesotans who use propane for heat.

The House approved the bill 78-47, with the Senate voting 50-14.

The bill lowered spending, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, while making “important energy reforms that will continue pushing us toward our goal of cleaner and cheaper energy for Minnesotans.”

“We dispelled this ridiculous notion that higher energy prices create jobs,” he added.

But Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, said the bill will mean fewer jobs across the state.

He said that money Garofalo saved comes from greater Minnesota and Twin Cities economic development programs.

Expanding broadband in rural Minnesota will get $10 million, down from $20 million approved a year ago, $100 million that broadband supporters wanted and $30 million Gov. Mark Dayton suggested. House Republicans began the year with no broadband money in their plan.

“There is no question we have missed an incredible opportunity here,” Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, said about broadband.

Education advances

The House approved 115-10 an education funding bill that provides more money to early-childhood programs, but without the governor’s wish for universal school for 4-year-olds.

It was expected to pass the Senate later in the day.

The bill adds $550 million to what schools had expected to receive, boosting the per-pupil funding $236 per student. It also adds money for pre-school scholarships that allows parents to spend the funds at variety of schools, not requiring youngsters to attend public facilities.

The bill is $125 million richer and little changed from the one that lawmakers passed before their regular session ended on May 18.

Friday session agreement being signed

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Thursday, June 11, 2015, that he will call a special legislative session once he is convinced all remaining budget bills will pass. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Thursday, June 11, 2015, that he will call a special legislative session once he is convinced all remaining budget bills will pass. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

A Friday special legislative session is expected to finish writing the Minnesota state budget.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was the first legislative leader to sign an agreement with the governor Thursday night saying his caucus will support the budget bills. He said a governor’s office staff member said that Senator Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, also will sign.

With those two in agreement, most of the pieces are in place to wrap up the $42 billion, two-year budget.

Gov. Mark Dayton said after talking to Democratic legislators late Thursday that he remained optimistic a Friday session was possible, but he was not willing to commit to a special session until he heard back from all four legislative leaders.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, said he and his colleagues were going through the environment bill “line by line.”

“Everybody is making their pitch,” he said, including the governor.

Some senators said stricter environmental protection language should be in the bill, but Dayton said Thursday that the bills ready for Friday votes are the best he could get from House Republicans.

The governor asked his fellow Democrats to support three budget bills he vetoed, as well as two more funding measures. Earlier Thursday, he said that if he was convinced they would pass the bills, he would schedule the session.

“We don’t have time to continue this process…” Dayton said, referring to a June 30 deadline for passing bills. “This is about stepping up to do what we must do.”

Bakk said that he was not sure his members would pass the agriculture-environment bill. However, he added, the votes should be there once Dayton tells them that the bill is the best they will get.

The Democratic governor issued a threat: “If somebody is going to start to disrupt this whole process at this point by offering a self-serving amendment, I’m going to be very strongly opposed, and I’m going to be not bashful about going around to their respective districts and telling people in those districts that this kind of grandstanding is just not acceptable.”

Bakk said that may not go over well.

“The members feel they have a constitutional right to offer an amendment,” Bakk said.

The four legislative leaders and Dayton met Thursday morning, and emerged saying they expected a Friday session, but were not sure.

“I really ask the 201 legislators to look beyond their particular political views,” Dayton said.

Without the final three budget bills, a partial government shutdown would begin July 1. Before then, Minnesotans could feel the impact, such as state parks not accepting camping reservations beginning next week.

“What is at stake now is the continuity of government in the state of Minnesota,” the governor said.

Dayton and legislative leaders expect a one-day session, starting at 10 a.m..

A special session is needed because Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills during the regular session. Negotiations since then have changed those bills, although Daudt said they look much like what passed earlier.

The three vetoed and reworked bills are those funding agriculture-environment, jobs-energy and education. Lawmakers also hope to pass bills funding public works projects, outdoors and arts projects.

The session will be the first held in more than a century anywhere other than the state Capitol building. It is undergoing a multi-year $300 million renovation and is closed to all but construction workers.

Two large House hearing rooms in the State Office Building, across the street from the Capitol, have been turned into House and Senate chambers, but there will be very little room for the public.

Special session almost set for Friday

Waiting to talk to the media on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, left, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann collect their thoughts. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Waiting to talk to the media on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, left, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann collect their thoughts. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota political leaders expect a special Friday legislative session Friday, but Gov. Mark Dayton will not schedule it until he is convinced none of the 201 legislators will mess up the plan.

Dayton plans to meet with Democratic lawmakers tonight to make sure they are willing to support three funding bills he vetoed, as well as a public works financing measure and legislation to fund outdoors and arts programs.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he is not sure his members would pass an agriculture-environment bill, due to a multitude of environmental concerns. However, he added, the votes should be there once Dayton tells them that the bill is the best they will get.

Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said Dayton will speak to their members tonight. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he could invite the governor to talk to his members, but House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he does not see the need in his caucus.

Once Dayton receives assurances that the bills will pass, he said that he will schedule a Friday session.

“I really ask the 201 legislators to look beyond their particular political views,” Dayton said Thursday morning after meeting with the four legislative leaders.

Without the final three budget bills, a partial government shutdown would begin July 1. Before then, Minnesotans could feel the impact, such as state parks not accepting camping reservations beginning next week.

“What is at stake now is the continuity of government in the state of Minnesota,” the governor said.

Dayton and legislative leaders expect a one-day session. An activity near the Capitol would make it difficult to extend the session into Saturday, Bakk said.

Most of the concern about passing the environmental bill is from Bakk’s caucus.

“They members feel they have a constitutional right to offer an amendment,” he said, but leaders and Dayton oppose any changes to bills they have negotiated since the regular session ended on May 18.

“We don’t have time to continue this process…” Dayton said, referring to the June 30 deadline for passing bills. “This is about stepping up to do what we must do.”

“The game’s over,” he added. “Now you can get prepared for the next game.”

A special session is needed because Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills during the regular session. Negotiations since then have changed those bills, although Daudt said they look much like what passed earlier.

Everything ready for special session other than auditor issue

With flowers blooming, work continues Friday, June 5, 2015, on the Minnesota Capitol building. It is undergoing an extensive renovation that has closed the building, forcing a special legislative session into a nearby office building. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

With flowers blooming, work continues Friday, June 5, 2015, on the Minnesota Capitol building. It is undergoing an extensive renovation that has closed the building, forcing a special legislative session into a nearby office building. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

There will be no Saturday special legislative session to wrap up Minnesota’s budget because the governor and House speaker continue to argue about the state auditor’s authority.

While they debated that issue Friday, legislative finance committee members met to learn about three spending bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed after the regular legislative session ended on May 18: education, environment-natural resources and jobs-energy. They also looked over a public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds.

Those issues, as well as a measure funding outdoors and arts projects, are to be considered in a special session once House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Democrat Dayton work out their differences over the auditor’s office.

Legislators passed eight budget bills by their May 18 constitutional deadline, but Dayton vetoed three of them. Those bills, including a $17 billion education measure, must be repassed.

On Friday afternoon, Daudt said he thinks all issues in budget bills are resolved and he hoped that four legislative leaders and Dayton still could meet soon to resolve the auditor issue and agree on when a special session will be held. Only the governor can schedule a special session and the governor, like others before him, demands that before he schedules a session all legislative leaders sign a document promising bills will pass as they were negotiated.

No meetings among legislative leaders and the governor were scheduled for the weekend.

Dayton mostly gave up on his demand to overturn a law he signed a couple of weeks ago limiting the state auditor’s authority, although he admitted Republicans probably will not like his idea.

The Democratic governor released a statement saying he offered to accept House Republicans’ position that counties be allowed to hire private accountants to audit their finances, but with one exception.

The difference in Dayton’s offer is that he suggests that the auditor retain county auditing powers through Aug. 1, 2017, instead of a year earlier as the new law says.

Daudt said that Republicans do not agree to the Dayton offer, saying the governor just signed the bill containing the auditor change and there is no need to change it now.

The speaker said that Dayton’s refusal to call a special session is threatening funds contained in vetoed budget bills for poultry farmers, steelworkers, flood victims and state employees who would be laid off on July 1 if no budget deal is reached.

Dayton was not surprised with Daudt’s comments.

“I don’t expect House Republicans to like this compromise any more than I do,” Dayton said in a statement. “I ask them to agree to it, while not agreeing with it, to conclude the people’s business.”

Dayton urged the GOP to agree with his “compromise.”

“In this instance, failure to compromise would mean another state government shutdown,” Dayton said.

House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said Republicans offered to let the Legislature vote on Dayton’s proposed change, without a previous commitment by legislative leaders that it would pass. Dayton rejected the proposal.

Daudt had pushed hard for a Saturday session, and only gave up Friday afternoon. He had planned to leave for Europe on state government business, but said he will stay until his special session work is done.

The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees met late Friday afternoon and night to go over bills lawmakers will consider in the special session.

One bill would spend $373 million on public works projects, $180 million funded by selling bonds to be repaid by general tax revenues. Dayton earlier proposed selling $842 million in bonds for a much bigger construction plan, but the Republican-controlled House passed nothing during the regular session.

The bill contains money for two poultry testing laboratories, flood relief, three railroad crossings and other construction projects.

“All cake with very little frosting” is how Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, described the bill.

Rep. Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, complained that just six or eight legislators made decisions about what rail crossings would be funded. The bonding bill left off projects Dayton wanted in Moorhead, Coon Rapids and Prairie Island Indian Community. A Willmar project that Dayton supported was included in the bill, along with a small one at Rainy River and one in Plymouth.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, said the Moorhead crossing is too expensive to fit into this year’s bill.

Commissioner John Linc Stine of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency told the committees that the governor does not like a provision in the agriculture-environment bill that would eliminate the Citizens’ Advisory Board that makes some environmental policy decisions. However, the commissioner said Dayton accepted it in the spirit of compromise.

Steve Morse, representing a number of environmental groups, told lawmakers that “this bill is unfortunate,” and singled out the citizens’ board issue. “We think it is an outrage to take citizens out of the process at this time.”

 

Saturday session out as auditor debate continues

Minnesota House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, alongside House Speaker Kurt Daudt, tells reporters Friday, June 5, 2015, that Gov. Mark Dayton is hurting Minnesotans by refusing to call a special legislative session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, alongside House Speaker Kurt Daudt, tells reporters Friday, June 5, 2015, that Gov. Mark Dayton is hurting Minnesotans by refusing to call a special legislative session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

A special Saturday legislative session to finish passing Minnesota budget bills will not happen as the governor and House Republicans continue to argue about whether to reduce some of the state auditor’s authority.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Friday that he thinks all issues in remaining budget bills are resolved and he hoped that four legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton still could meet Friday to resolve the auditor issue, allowing the governor to call a special session.

The first indication that the Saturday session that Daudt pushed hard would not happen was when Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, told reporters  that he plans to go home tonight, and does not know when he will return for the special session. Moments later, word began to spread that lawmakers were receiving emails that there would be no Saturday meeting.

While legislative leaders and the governor were trying to schedule a special session, the governor announced that he made a move to pave the way.

Dayton mostly gave up his demand to overturn a law limiting the state auditor’s authority, although he admitted Republicans probably will not like it.

The Democratic governor released a statement Friday afternoon said he offered to accept House Republicans’ position that counties be allowed to hire private accountants to audit their finances. Now, 59 of the state’s 87 counties must use the state auditor.

Republicans, especially, wanted to give counties authority to decide between the state auditor and private firms.

Daudt said that Republicans do not agree to the Dayton offer, saying the governor just signed the bill containing the auditor change in law less than two weeks ago.

Daudt said that Dayton is threatening funds contained in vetoed budget bills for poultry farmers, steelworkers, flood victims and workers who would be laid off on July 1 if no budget deal is reached by refusing to give up his auditor demands.

Dayton was not surprised with Daudt’s comments.

“I don’t expect House Republicans to like this compromise any more than I do,” Dayton said an afternoon statement. “I ask them to agree to it, while not agreeing with it, to conclude the people’s business.”

The only change Dayton wanted in the provision, contained in a law he signed a couple of weeks ago, was to delay the ability to hire private auditors a year, to Aug. 1, 2017.

Dayton said that he mostly accepted the GOP offer so lawmakers can meet in a special session and pass three budget bills, a public works funding bill and a “legacy” measure to fund outdoors and arts projects.

“House Republican leaders, Lt. Gov. (Tina) Smith and I have spent the past three weeks negotiating to resolve our differences over the three bills I vetoed,” Dayton said. “Our differences mirror the deep divide among Minnesota voters, who last November elected a DFL governor and a Republican majority in the Minnesota House.”

Dayton urged Republicans to accept his offer because “one sign of a true compromise is that no one likes it.”

“In this instance, failure to compromise would mean another state government shutdown,” Dayton said.

Daudt said he did not think a Saturday session was possible, but late Friday afternoon continued to hold out hope.

Only the governor can call a special session and Dayton has said he will not call one until lawmakers agree to change the auditor provision.

Daudt said the governor rejected his offer to let the Legislature vote on Dayton’s proposed change without a previous commitment.

The governor, like others before him, demands that before he call a special session that legislative leaders sign a document promising bills will pass as they were negotiated.

 

Bonding is first agreement

Minnesota state Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska tells reporters Thursday June 4, 2015, that negotiators had agreed to a public works spending bill. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota state Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska tells reporters Thursday June 4, 2015, that negotiators had agreed to a public works spending bill. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota budget negotiators said throughout Thursday they were confident they could hold a special Saturday legislative session to finish passing the state budget, but as the sun rose today all they had to show for their work was a public works finance bill agreement.

The public works bill would spend $373 million, $180 million of which would be financed by bonds to be repaid from general tax revenues.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, met three times Thursday with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and regularly with committee chairmen. Thursday night, the speaker met with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in a one-on-one conversation. All meetings were behind closed doors and participants said little about what was happening.

Negotiators were working on legislation funding education, jobs-economic development-energy, agriculture-environment, public works and outdoors-arts projects.

The elusive budget deal is needed before the governor can call a special session to approve spending more than $17 billion of the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. All four legislative leaders and Dayton plan to sign an agreement setting out the agenda of a special session before the governor schedules it.

Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills after the regular session ended May 18, leaving 17 agencies without money if spending legislation is not approved by July 1. Bills funding public works and “legacy” outdoors and arts projects did not pass during the regular session.

Legislative leaders scheduled a 3 p.m. meeting today of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees to consider the five spending bills that need to pass during a special session.

Twice after Smith and Daudt met Thursday, Smith said they discussed jobs legislation and the major hang-up for scheduling a special session: the governor’s wish to overturn a newly signed law that allows counties to hire private accountants instead of using the state auditor to check county finances.

Dayton says he will not call a special session, and he is the only one who can call one, until legislators agree to overturn the auditor provision. But Daudt says he does not have enough votes in the House to do that.

That issue apparently was not resolved Thursday night.

Daudt said four issues needed to be fixed in a jobs and energy bill and some technical issues needed to be resolved in other legislation Thursday night.

Agreement about funding public works projects around the state was one of the final agreements needed before lawmakers are ready for a special session, and it came out Thursday with a $373 million total.

Of that, $180 million in state-sold bonds would be repaid by general tax money, with the rest coming from a variety of sources.

“It is what we would call a lean and mean bonding bill,” Daudt said.

Among items included in the so-called bonding bill:

— $38.5 million for flood-related expenditures for 2014 flood recovery, Otter Tail County lake flooding, Red River Valley flood-prevention efforts and other projects.

— $33 million to finish renovation of the state Capitol building.

— $26.5 million for Willmar and St. Paul poultry testing facilities, both University of Minnesota projects.

— $171 million to reroute U.S. 53 in northeastern Minnesota as a taconite mine takes over the old highway.

— $29 million for the next phase of southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark rural water system.

— $1.2 million for Northeast Regional Corrections Center renovations.

— $10 million for sewage treatment facilities.

— $3.8 million for a Willmar railroad crossing, $4.7 million for one in Plymouth and $460,000 for a third at Rainy River.

— $31.9 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects, including renovations at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Dakota County Technical College, Anoka Technical College and St. Paul College.

“It is pretty well balanced” between Twin Cities and greater Minnesota projects, said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chairman of the House committee that draws up bonding legislation.

Torkelson and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, led negotiations for 14 hours Wednesday, then reached agreement Thursday.

“Bonding bills provide vital funding to maintain and improve the publicly owned infrastructure of the state,” Stumpf said.

The senator said he was disappointed that Republicans wanted a smaller bonding bill this year, but said he was happy with the compromise.

Torkelson said that he does not expect all Republicans to vote for the bill: “I never expected 100 percent participation.” Some in the GOP want no bonding bill, he said.

He said he expects enough Democrats to provide votes for it to pass.