What to expect when you’re expecting a special session

Wikimedia Commons/AlexiusHoratius
So far, leaders did agree that a special session should be held in the state office building

What’s most special about the upcoming legislative special session?

Is it the fact that Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, felt compelled to veto bills that were passed by a DFL-controlled Senate? Or is it that House Speaker Kurt Daudt will end up playing a huge role in whatever is to happen, as he tries to bring together Dayton and Senate majority leader Tom Bakk even while holding off the Tea Party crowd?

My money is on the fact that the Legislature will probably take one day to do what it couldn’t get done in five months. An education bill; an environment-agriculture bill (with fewer poison pills); a jobs-energy bill that provides more than a pittance for broadband  — all will get completed and signed.

Additionally, the legacy bill, which passed the House but didn’t get to the Senate floor before time ran out on the session, surely will get passed and signed. A small bonding bill — one that does not include the $7 million Bakk wants for an underground parking garage — likely will get passed. A few other odds ’n’ ends, such as $153 million for the completion of a Hwy 53 project on the Iron Range, may get agreed to. Bakk indicated more money, presumably from unspent surplus, could end up in transportation projects.

All of this will happen in the next few weeks because legislative leaders and the governor will make agreements on what will happen before the governor calls the special session. In other words, the public’s business will get done behind closed doors, involving a handful of people who will twist enough arms to get bills passed.

The work, among leaders, was happening Tuesday when the governor, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Daudt held meetings at the governor’s mansion. Following that meeting, Dayton met with Bakk and Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul.  Cohen’s inclusion in these discussions is important. He’s chair of the DFL finance committee and much of what happens — a few tax cuts for Republicans and more education money — will require some serious numbers juggling.

So far, leaders did agree that a special session should be held in the state office building. (The capitol is closed off because of renovations.) That facility will work for Senate and House members but it will be chaos for anyone interested in trying to watch the proceedings.  

To former Gov. Arne Carlson, what’s most surprising about this upcoming special session is that covers such a wide variety of issues. That indicates the seeming failure of the governor and the DFL majority in the Senate to work more closely together, he said.

“Usually at the end of the session you have the DFL versus the Republicans,’’ said Carlson. “But in this case, you had three different things — the DFL, Republicans and the governor — going in different directions.’’

Take the environmental-agriculture bill. The governor and many environmental groups, which are crucial to the DFL base, believed this was the worst environmental bill ever passed by a DFL body.

State Sen. John MartyState Sen. John Marty

But, according to Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee, most of the objectionable language wasn’t in the original bill sent by the Senate to the conference committee. When the bill was re-worked there, it came back with a bunch of surprises, including the elimination of the Citizen’s Review Board, which has been an overseerer of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency since the 1960s. That conference committee bill did pass in the Senate, but it passed because 10 DFLers joined with Republicans.

That same sort of alliance — a handful of DFLers joining with a united GOP caucus — passed the jobs and energy bill, which Dayton vetoed. (That was the bill that “passed” in the House in the final seconds of the session with DFLers’ screaming at Daudt.  The DFLers cries of “crooks” and “shameful” would have been far more impressive if DFL majorities hadn’t pulled the same sort of stunts in past sessions.)

There has been much rhetoric following Dayton’s vetoes. For example, there was the “outrage’’ of Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who is the chair of the House committee. “It seems the governor’s version of compromise is his way or the highway,’’ McNamara said after Dayton’s veto of the environment-agriculture bill. “Moving forward from this veto, which blindsided us, will be difficult.’’

This bluster would be more compelling if McNamara hadn’t loaded up the bill with big policy changes during conference committee meetings. There were, for instance, no hearings on the elimination of the PCA’s Citizen’s Review Board. It simply showed up in conference committee, which might be considered a form of blindsiding.

There likely will be little rhetoric, and little debate, when the special session does begin. In that way, it won’t be special at all.   

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 05/27/2015 - 11:07 am.

    POOF!

    “When the bill was re-worked there, it came back with a bunch of surprises, including the elimination of the Citizen’s Review Board, which has been an overseerer of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency since the 1960s.”

    Perhaps I am the naive one in the room, but it has never sat well with me that items not included in the original versions of a bill can suddenly appear (POOF!) in a conference committee when even in some cases those provisions were not supported either in the original committee or by the respective legislative body itself.

    As a typical citizen on the state, this is yet another example of so-called deal-making that makes voters shake their collective heads.

    • Submitted by Michael Hess on 05/27/2015 - 03:19 pm.

      Yes…

      which makes the all day universal pre-K blow-up so interesting because as I recall, it didn’t make it out of committee in either chamber. Yet the Gov expects it to be interjected into the final bill. I dont think it’s good government to have these types of backroom deals be finalizing the legislation but it does seem like the Governor is Ok with it if it matches his wishes – by rights universal Pre-K shouldn’t stand a chance if there wasn’t even enough support to follow the right process to get to a vote.

      • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 05/27/2015 - 09:04 pm.

        The Governor is not part of the legislature

        The governor has quite a lot of power in our system of government, and he exercised it legally and appropriately. Complaining that he didn’t play by the Legislature’s rules doesn’t do a lot for me since his powers here are an explicit check on the Legislature.

        So no, I don’t think he needs to feel bound by the committee process when he exercises his constitutional power to veto legislation. In fact, it seems to me that it was the Legislature that played chicken with the constitutional May deadline to adjourn. It seems like their leverage declines as that deadline approaches, and that’s precisely what our constitution contemplates.

  2. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 05/27/2015 - 12:04 pm.

    Great Headline.

    Kudos to the editorial team!

  3. Submitted by Mark Ohm on 05/27/2015 - 02:48 pm.

    Clean Team

    I feel like the time is right for a Clean Team approach to the next election, that is, finding candidates who are committed to and endorsed on a platform of clean water, clean air and clean energy for a clean Minnesota. This would seem to bring together a broad coalition of people, rural, suburban and urban, who will get our legislature to recommit Minnesota to being a nationwide leader on the environment.

    There should be no retreat on environmental issues. The shameful quality of the Minnesota River is embarrassing for a river that runs only through one state: ours. We own this dumpster fire and we need to fix it.

    I, too, like the headline. The article’s not too bad either. 🙂

    I appreciate that Governor Dayton is taking or has taken a stab at working on some of the intractable problems of the state: income inequality, health care, the achievement gap, water quality, and transportation. You may not agree with his solutions, but he has attempted to address these issues directly.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/28/2015 - 12:42 am.

      Yes

      “I feel like the time is right for a Clean Team approach to the next election.”

      I don’t mean this sarcastically or “cynically” at all, but by all means, do it! Don’t quit your day job or anything foolish like that, but by all means, if you’re into “contemporary politics,” I’d say your “instincts” are accurate.

      Research that concept (if you haven’t already) and keep promoting it because, although there’s no guarantee and you could become crushed, disillusioned or worse (mentioned for “fair warning purposes” only), there are some people in the U.S.A. that are saying some version of the same thing and, if you ask me, making a lot of sense AND some “real world, on-the-ground” progress in that department.

      Good idea.

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/27/2015 - 09:28 pm.

    My tired idea repeated

    All of our legislators vote “No” on the agreements reached by the Governor, Daudt, and Bakk. Imagine if our representatives actually showed some courage. Why should they all receive an extra paycheck for this disaster if their bosses are actually pulling the lever?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/28/2015 - 09:12 am.

      Tired is right

      What would voting “no” accomplish?

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/29/2015 - 01:40 am.

        Perhaps

        The “Big Three” would have to go back and have the rest of our representatives fully debate and vote on the measures that the Governor could then be allowed to veto. It is called representative government. One day session, a few weeks session. Shouldn’t government let the people weigh in and decide? Or perhaps we should just concede to King Mark.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2015 - 09:40 am.

          Or perhaps

          We could let government be bogged down in symbolism, and let a special session drag on interminably until everyone is happy.

          That is what is known as dysfunctional government.

        • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 05/29/2015 - 10:49 am.

          King Mark

          They had a whole session to come up with a compromise. If they had passed a bill with enough time to deal with a veto, they wouldn’t be in this situation. However, now the governor has the sole power to call the legislature back in session. If these are the actions of a King (spoiler alert: they are not the actions of a King) blame the people for duly ratifying the Minnesota Constitution.

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