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A messy end to a messy session

The last 90 seconds of the 2015 legislative session in the Minnesota House, courtesy of the UpTake.

It was five minutes before midnight Monday when Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt, standing at the rostrum in the House chamber, waved his right arm dismissively. 

Time had run out to pass a bonding bill, which he had been hurriedly trying to negotiate with Democrats at the last minute, and there was barely enough time to pass a jobs package that had just cleared the state Senate. The jobs bill arrived from the upper chamber with just three minutes to spare before a constitutional deadline to adjourn. Daudt quickly brought the bill to the floor and opened it up for a vote. Democrats began to shout, arguing they hadn’t read the 90-plus page proposal, which had been drafted just hours before the vote. 

Daudt ignored their calls and closed the vote. It passed with Republican support — and barely a minute to spare. He quickly moved to adjourn the House, when Democrats stood in protest shouting things like “Mr. Speaker!” “shameful!” and “crooks!” But with one pound of his gavel, the 2015 session was over. 

It was a fitting final note to an uncommonly messy end of session, where most major bills were drafted in rushed, round-the-clock meetings over the weekend or just hours before hitting the House and Senate floors for votes. The broad outline of a budget deal was struck with little time to spare Friday, and many lawmakers complained the final bills contained provisions that had never been seen or heard in committees all session. Votes were cobbled together on the floor by forming strange alliances between Republicans and Democrats, and some provisions included blatant  “poison pills” — measures that invited a veto from DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. 

“This is not the way to run a Legislature,” DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen said immediately after the vote, encouraging Dayton to veto the jobs bill that had just passed. 

The unexpected casualties: state auditor, MPCA citizens’ board

There were many unexpected casualties of the chaotic process Monday evening: the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board was abolished after nearly 50 years; the state’s Political Contribution Refund program was (again) suspended; DFL State Auditor Rebecca Otto suffered a major blow in a surprise provision that would allow county officials to bypass her office and get audits from the private sector. Otto said she’s worried private firms will undercut auditors in her office and offer less transparent and independent reviews of local governments.

“It was never heard in the Senate, and legislative leaders went behind closed doors and cut a deal to put this privatization in,” said Otto, who spent her evening pacing between the House and Senate chambers, calling legislators and live-tweeting floor debates. “That really devalues the process and it diminishes transparency.”

State Sen. David Senjem
MinnPost photo by Tom Olmscheid
State Sen. David Senjem placing a box containing items from his Senate Chamber desk on a cart to be brought to his office in the State Office Building.

Other issues just fell away entirely. The first to go were a GOP proposal for tax cuts and a DFL plan to raise the gas tax for transportation improvements, which failed to gain traction all year. In the final hours of session, several other bills just ran out of time: a $107 million package of bonding projects passed out of the Senate, but it ran out of time in the House. And a bill funding projects paid for by the Legacy amendment passed out of the House, but it wasn’t given enough time to pass the Senate.  

Eleventh-hour negotiating on education funding

What’s more, Dayton is vowing to veto a bill with $400 million in additional education spending immediately after session because he considers it to be too small and it lacks funding for his top priority: universal pre-kindergarten education. As the Capitol undergoes restoration all summer, Dayton has suggested holding a special session in a tent on the front lawn of the Capitol. (At one point during the day, the St. Paul Hotel sent out a press release offering to hold the special session in its facilities, free of charge.)

Even on education, lawmakers were trying to come to a last-minute deal behind closed doors Monday evening that would satisfy the governor, but Daudt said he couldn’t find the votes to pass anything. 

“That’s why we have a five-month session,” said Daudt. “You have to gain support and build support for these initiatives, and — unfortunately — the support wasn’t there in either body. The governor has a long ways to go to get that passed if that’s what he wants to do in special session.”  

Daudt ‘proud’ of session, Bakk not so much

Immediately after the shouting match on the House floor, Daudt seemed surprisingly upbeat about the session. “We got our work done and we got it done on time,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”

He’s also optimistic about the prospect to find an agreement next session on the two big outstanding issues: tax cuts and transportation. Bakk and Daudt agreed to leave $1 billion of a nearly $2 billion budget surplus untouched to try to come to an agreement next year. “We’ll come back next year, we’ll take another bite at the apple,” Daudt said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, left, and his executive director Ben Golnik
MinnPost photo by Tom Olmscheid
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, left, and his executive director Ben Golnik make their way back to the Capitol after meeting with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith at the Speaker’s office in the State Office Building hours before the end of the session.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he was pleased that Democrats managed to block a proposal to cut $1 billion from health and human services and passed $138 million in new funding for nursing homes.

But ultimately, Bakk said he was heading back to his Iron Range district unsatisfied. “The last five months we have seen what divided government looks like. Many bills this session passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support. However, the challenge presented by divided government immobilized many promising, critical initiatives,” he said. “I … am particularly disappointed we were unable pass a comprehensive transportation bill this session. I will work tirelessly to pass a comprehensive transportation bill with stable funding during the 2016 legislative session.”

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by David Mindeman on 05/19/2015 - 10:24 am.

    Bakk was the weak link…

    If Bakk had partnered with Dayton instead of moving on his own agenda, the end of session would have had been less messy and the DFL would have had the leverage that controlling 2/3rds of the legislative machinery should consist of. Bakk made too many deals that we are only beginning to find out about. He has never been a DFL team player – he’s a decent regional legislator but a lousy majority leader.

    • Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 05/19/2015 - 11:08 am.

      You’re right, and I wonder how that will affect his ambitions for the Governor’s Office. Wouldn’t be suprised to see the 2-on-1 strategy emerge next year, though.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/19/2015 - 10:39 am.


    “’We got our work done and we got it done on time,’ he [Speaker Daudt] said.”

    Not really…

    • Submitted by Mike Worcester on 05/19/2015 - 11:30 am.

      Exhibit A

      Is the failure to pass the Legacy Amendment Funding Bill. About as non-contentious a bill as can be found. Not passed. Dead in the water. And for what? A “great session”. Not from where a lot of us regular folks are sitting.

  3. Submitted by Ronald Edlund on 05/19/2015 - 10:40 am.

    MN Legislature

    Another poor end to 5 months of hyper-partisan politics. Legislators more concerned with scoring points off the other party than doing what they were elected for. Or is it a concern for re-election. Very little accomplished for all the shouting and lack of compromise. The last minute mess in the House proves that actual passing of good legislation is not part of the current mind?-set in the Capitol.

  4. Submitted by lee wick on 05/19/2015 - 10:58 am.

    Messy but Some Work

    Only the governor can shut down the state. Dayton did it before and plans to do it again. Don’t blame the other two legs.

  5. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 05/19/2015 - 11:09 am.

    Every article I’ve read about the session – including this one – talks about how the House and Senate gave up their top priorities and the governor still wants his. There’s your explanation for everything that happens in the coming weeks.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/19/2015 - 03:18 pm.

      Read more

      If the house had given up its priorities, it wouldn’t have loaded up bills with things (i.e. auditor changes) that had never even been through committee. One need only watch the final minute of the house session and seeing Daudt in action to see where to place the blame. Just keep showing that over and over. That’s the real explanation for what happened.

  6. Submitted by Michael Hess on 05/19/2015 - 11:14 am.

    No one should be proud

    From the DFL’s opening salvo of major new taxes even atop the surplus to the Republican Parties media campaign to “give it all back” you kinda knew this session was going to be a problem and it was. The legislative and executive branches have nothing to be proud about here and that sentiment can be spread across both parties.

  7. Submitted by Mike M on 05/19/2015 - 11:32 am.

    Wonderful Bill Passed This Session

    There was a wonderfull bill passed this session, one with bi-partisan support, one that increases funding with new money, $400M in new spend or 20% of the budget surplus. One that will invest in our chlidren, one that pays our teachers and continues to build on our education system. One that will give hope to thousands of low income families. Yep, the Education bill yet the Governor is going to veto it. Why? Because he’s a petulant child himself who is only intereted in paying back special interests. Give him a call and tell him to sign the Education bill and get on with life. Maybe he’ll learn how this process works a little more next time.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/19/2015 - 12:48 pm.

      How this process works

      The Governor has the sole constitutional authority to veto or approve bills. That power is exercised independent of the will of the Legislature (if not, the power to veto legislation would make no sense). Calls to “ignore the Governor” or to tell the Governor to “get on with his life” ignore the reality that this sort of impasse is a feature of, and not a bug in, our system of divided powers.

      I am not, incidentally, saying that I support the Governor’s position on this legislation.

      • Submitted by Mike M on 05/19/2015 - 01:14 pm.

        The process

        I understand the checks and balances in our process quite well. To clarify my point, if this was such a key piece of legislation for his agenda then he should have worked harder to get the buy in of both houses so a veto would not be required. This was not done on his part.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/19/2015 - 01:33 pm.


          Dayton’s been in negotiations with legislators all week, and he spent all winter traveling around the state pitching his education plan. This republican meme attempt at blaming Dayton for not trying hard enough is just silly. The governor doesn’t set the legislative agenda or vote on legislation. Republican can pretend that if only Dayton had spent more time with them they might of voted for pre-k but it’s dishonest to do so.

  8. Submitted by Mike Downing on 05/19/2015 - 11:46 am.

    Question on Special Sessions

    Only the Governor can call a special session. As an independent branch of state government, can the state legislature ignore a Governor’s call for a special session?

    Perhaps it is time to ignore this Governor and ask him to execute the laws/Bills passed by the legislature since both there was not support in the House or Senate for his proposal to commit to spend more money on a continuing basis. Perhaps we should see the results from full day kindergarten before burdening taxpayers with another long term commitment.

  9. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/19/2015 - 11:49 am.

    Session Grade – Incomplete

    I say, let Dayton veto the Education bill and call them back into session to fix their mistakes, do something useful with the surplus, and deal with roads and taxes. Simple idea. $300 million each spent on House Senate and Governor priorities. The house will want tax cuts – hopefully personal not business, the Senate transportation, the Governor universal pre-K. Put $100 million in the rainy day fund. Dispute solved.

  10. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 05/19/2015 - 12:02 pm.

    I Daudt

    It is telling to see Speaker Daudt again with the hyper-partisan Ben Golnik. The Speaker’s failure to manage debate on the House floor and throughout the session in a fair and professional way disadvantaged the people of Minnesota. His inexperience and hyperpartisanship showed through and made the debate in the legislature less representative than it needed to be. The Republicans only had a small majority gained by promising rural Minnesotans they would have their voices heard and their needs met. Didn’t seem to happen in this session and needs to be made clear to voters.

  11. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/19/2015 - 12:09 pm.

    RINO In Charge

    Speaker Daudt must be a RINO. What else am I to believe when he trumpets a session in which he and the GOP House take our liberty from us and facilitate the government take over of health care?

    Or is that somehow OK when it involves his party’s constituency in nursing homes?

    Somehow the fiery tea party rhetoric has been muted.

  12. Submitted by Bill Conley on 05/19/2015 - 12:13 pm.

    Ask the Revisor?

    You should ask the Revisor how many and what kind of mistakes they usually find and fix after adjournment. BUT because there was no law passed this year, with out a special session, all the mistakes will be in the law, like it or not. And there will be many. This law has passed for as many years as I have been following the legislature .Can’t live with out it.

  13. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 05/19/2015 - 12:58 pm.


    Even more shameful than I thought, especially with the “surprises” at the end–such as eliminating the MN Pollution Control Agency and undermining the state auditor’s job.
    I think we should endure a shutdown if it’s necessary to fix things. Not fun, but neither are the consequences of this abysmal session

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/19/2015 - 01:35 pm.

    Bakk is problem

    Bakk’s been doing this all year, some of the stuff he agreed to was unnecessary and scandalous. We’ll see what happens in the special session.

  15. Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 05/19/2015 - 04:12 pm.

    The games being played…

    are immature & unprofessional and help Minnesotans: not at all.

    – Special sessions cost a lot of $ and also
    – ‘reward’ these legislators for not doing their jobs within the prescribed amount of time:(

    The DEMs too often ask for too much.
    The REPs only want to support & aid corporations (who are not people).

    Paid lobbyists are not voted for, but are paid by corporations to do their dirty work.

    Here is a strong procedural suggestion for next year:

    On Day One: Bring in trained negotiators to teach the legislators all how to work together.

    Here are the core requirements:

    At the beginning of the session, both sides came up with their own plans for each issue.
    Midway thru the session, they compare and find the common ground.
    ALL bills must pertain only to the topic (e.g., transp). No other topics or issues included!!
    By the end of the session, they have negotiated a middle of the road compromise that provides a win-win to both sides, with no huge surprises or losses for them, or the public.

    This is what I expect from representatives voted for by the people, and paid well to do their high level & influential (often for years!) jobs.

    No more partisan head locking.
    No more blocking the other side.
    Not more time sucking and talent wasting games being played.
    Not more ridiculous, useless and embarrassing sessions.

    No more unevenly stacked decks.
    Just an level playing field for all Minnesotans.
    Very Doable.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/19/2015 - 04:55 pm.


      Though I disagree with many of your thoughts, I do love the idea of creating milestones that are well defined.

      End of month 1: This shall be complete.
      End of month 2: …
      End of Session: …

      This is what I need to do when running complicated projects with challenging members. It is much nicer when the team is assigned professionals that can work well together. Much less hand holding and pummelling.

      It is too bad our politicians can not play together more effectively. Maybe they do need more structure…

  16. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/19/2015 - 04:55 pm.

    A truly disgusting display by

    Daudt and his majority leader which every Minnesotan should watch. Not even a copy of the bill to read before taking a vote. Ignoring valid points of order. Watching Daudt presiding with a band of clowns in front of him not even announcing the bill prior to a 2 second window for discussion. And some crack from a republican legislator that he will email a copy of the bill later to the democratic legislator requesting a copy of the bill. Truly pathetic – even a 6th grade civics class would have performed better.

  17. Submitted by Alan Muller on 05/20/2015 - 11:15 am.

    How dare you call HF 1437 a “jobs bill?”

    Perhaps you should read it first. This is not a “jobs bill,” it’s a “pork and pollution bill.”

    This is the sort of reporting that makes the mainstream media part of the problem–spewing the official misrepresentations.

  18. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/24/2015 - 05:24 pm.

    One is dumbfounded by the awful process used here, the rushing through of legislation that almost no one in the hall knew anything about and that had not really been considered by anyone. A real shame for the state of Minnesota, that our “leaders” showed themselves to be such bad players.

    The governor should insist that a whole lot of other things, beyond his push for universal pre-K education in public schools, be taken up in a very necessary special session.

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