Legislative log jam piles up unfinished work as session nears end

/ 27 April 2012 / jennifer

Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio, April 27, 2012 –

ST. PAUL, Minn. — With the legislative session heading into what is expected to be its final weekend, there’s still no agreement on major issues including a Vikings stadium, a public works bonding bill or a tax bill.

But Republicans in the House did manage to move forward with a bill to change tenure rules for teachers in public schools.

Still, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders met privately on and off throughout the day Thursday and reported that they’re still confident they can bridge their differences on the bills before them.

The Vikings stadium bill took a back seat to other issues on Thursday – a rare moment in the last week. The debate will shift back to the stadium Friday when the Senate Tax Committee holds a hearing on the bill.

Republican Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove says the House could vote on the measure as early as Friday as well. Kriesel, a stadium backer, said he wants to see the vote happen quickly.

“We know the deadline at this point and we can prepare for it. If we don’t move forward and then say well, we didn’t have enough time, that’s on us,” he said.

Kriesel is referring to a self-imposed deadline to finish the session on Monday. GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers says he’s still committed to meeting that deadline but declined to say when the Vikings stadium vote will happen.

He made his comments after he met privately with Dayton and the other legislative leaders. They didn’t discuss the stadium but focused more on a public works bonding bill and a tax bill. Republican Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said Republicans thought they had an agreement Wednesday night with Dayton on a $498 million bonding bill. But he said DFL leaders in the House and Senate thought the bill was too small.

“There was seemingly no interest in kind of working within the framework to the number we agreed to with the governor,” Senjem said. “We sat there for an hour talking about it and we made absolutely no progress so we’ll continue to work on it, but it seems to me that it’s a little more problematic right now.”

The two sides are still talking. Republicans need DFL support if they want a bonding bill because it requires a three-fifths super majority to pass. Paul Thissen is the DFL House Minority Leader.

“What we had for sixteen months is really that go it alone approach from Republicans and perhaps they’re realizing that the approach isn’t working very well for them or the people of Minnesota.”

House and Senate Republicans are also still working on a tax bill that would cut business taxes and residential property taxes. Republican leaders were mum on the status of negotiations, but DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said Republicans were working to pass a tax bill the governor would sign.

“Governors generally have all of the leverage on a tax bill, especially in a non-budget year, because governors don’t need one,” he said.

The House moved forward with a bill that Dayton said he would veto. The so-called “Last In First Out” bill would allow school districts to lay off teachers with more seniority rather than those most recently hired.

Republican Rep. Brandon Petersen of Andover criticized Dayton and Democrats for putting the needs of the state’s teacher’s union before the needs of students.

“Governor Dayton, and it seems some members of the DFL caucus, stand out on an island isolated from the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans including an overwhelming majority of their constituents,” he said.

Democrats criticized Republicans for pushing a bill that they say won’t take effect until 2016. Rep. Kerry Gauthier of Duluth said Republicans were using partisan politics to attack labor unions.

“This is just one more bill in an attack on working families in this state,” he said. “We continue to assault labor unions and collective bargaining and we continue to attack the people that we trust to take of our children and to educate them.”

The House also had to deal with another issue involving unions. Republican supporters unsuccessfully tried to force a vote on a measure that would allow voters to decide if union membership and the payment of union dues should be voluntary for all workers.

Before the motion, Republican Rep. Mark Buesgens of Jordan told reporters that he wanted the bill, known as right to work, to have a hearing.

“It’s obviously not getting a hearing where it’s at,” he said. “It is very important to a large amount of my constituents. In fact, I heard more on this issue in the crowds that I hang around with than a stadium bill.”