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Bring out your dead… bills: Legislators attempt to salvage bonding proposal via conference committee

Staffers and legislators will try to pass everything before midnight Sunday.
Staffers and legislators will try to pass everything before midnight Sunday.

How do you bring two dead bills back to life? In Minnesota, it’s done with a conference committee, a couple of “vehicle” bills and a dash of legislative will.

That’s what was being attempted Friday in a joint House and Senate committee, part of an effort to work out a compromise on a package of public works projects — better known as a bonding bill — which failed to hit the 60 percent vote threshold needed to pass it off the House and Senate floors. Usually that would be the end of the bill, at least for a year, but in one of the strangest end-of-session negotiations in recent memory, anything seems to be possible.

Of course, nothing is also possible — and even likely. And DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt will need herculean efforts to get a final deal to spend a $900 million budget surplus, pass the bonding bill and possibly a transportation funding package, too.

But they’re trying. The two leaders and representatives from Gov. Mark Dayton’s office were in and out of meetings late into the evening Thursday, though they emerged Friday with no concrete spending targets to close the 2016 session.

When they finally do come up with those targets, it will set off a flurry of activity in St. Paul. Staffers and legislators will try to pass everything before midnight Sunday. Though the constitutional deadline for adjournment is midnight Monday, lawmakers are prohibited from passing bills on the last day of a two-year cycle.

“Obviously we have some differences, and it’s that deadline at the end that forces people to come together,” Daudt said Thursday. “The more we talk, the closer we get, and we’ll just keep working, but I am optimistic.”

By Friday afternoon, leaders had set a $275 million target for a tax cut proposal but were still working on a plan for the budget, and chairs of House and Senate committees went in and out of hearings waiting for word from leaders.

Bakk said the priority was getting the tax and budget targets set, because they will take the longest to process. After that, a potential deal on bonding and transportation could fall together quickly, he said.

“The whole legislative process is about relationships,” said Bakk. “If leaders have good relationships and conference committee chairs have good relationships and they’re willing to have a give-and-take process and willing to maybe accept some things that make them uncomfortable, each willing to do that. But it starts with good relationships between the players, and I think we have that.”

Meanwhile, in the bonding committee, chairs of the Senate and House moved through articles of the two failed bills and highlighted areas they could agree until they got word from leadership.

Weeks after the Senate bonding bill failed by a single vote, House Republicans unveiled an $800 million bonding bill and put it up for a vote on the floor Thursday. But after a brief debate, the proposal failed on a 64-69 vote. It needed 81 votes to pass. Shortly after the bill failed, leaders announced plans to convene a conference committee.

There's still a $700 million divide between the $1.5 billion Senate bonding bill and the proposal in the House. 

“At this time we don’t have a target,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, told committee members and observers Friday. “We expect to get that sometime soon.”

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Comments (6)

Great Title!

Love your perspective. I know at least one legislator Dead on Departure, if you will...smart enough to not be running again this year.

My, but how you turn a phrase: "...no concrete spending targets..." Indeed, Portland or otherwise.

I would suggest "you bring two dead bills back to life" by calling in two Teds to resuscitate them---but, there seems to already be too much less than excellent adventure.

“ 'The whole legislative process is about relationships' ” ...and sleeping on the floor with new partners every other year.

Also: Getting a target for this gang that doesn't shoot straight seems superfluous. I wonder who primes their muskets.

Well, it is the 20th. Couldn't they have appropriately settled all this stuff last Friday?

(Just) for the record

It's always interesting to me that there are almost always so few comments on articles related to our state's legislative goings-on while there are comparative boatloads of comments related to what Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may or may not be up to and what may or may not happen under that circus tent five months from now . . . Not a big bad criticism (it's more interesting to most people, I suppose) but, to me, a curious phenomena.

This article is a prime example: There were three days of session left when it was published and Mr. Million's comment has been the only one here for two of those three days, while "yet another Trump article" is the "most commented."

Anyway . . . "Just for the record"

It's Sunday. There are a little less than 12 hours left in this year's legislative session. For better or worse, I'm a Minnesotan who tries to pay at least some attention to what's happening in the legislature so I can understand at least some of the bills that have been in committees, testified to by the public, debated and voted on by legislators and, every once in a while, contact my representatives (one in the House, one in the Senate) to let them know what I think about some of those things and how I'd like them to vote on them.

But, as of right now I have no clear idea of what my reps will be voting on (or not) at some point between now and midnight. Some of those things are:

Transportation

Taxes

Broadband expansion

Bonding

Proposed laws related to mining permits and regulation (that favor mining interests and, among other things, make it much more difficult for the public to weigh-in/participate in the process)

The main thing that caught my interest in this article was the paragraph in which Speaker of the House, Kurt Daudt, said, "Obviously we have some differences . . . but I am optimistic."

In case anyone hasn't noticed, Kurt Daudt has been saying that -- especially those last four words -- almost every time he's spoken in public since he's been in the legislature, and maybe even MORE often since he became Speaker of the House, two years ago. No matter the impasse, no matter the pending debacle, no matter the anything, if a person does a quick search on "Kurt Daudt I am optimistic," they'll see what I mean.

For just one example, he said it last November after the Gov called for a special session to extend the unemployment insurance benefits for the people on the Range whose benefits would be running out at the end of December. He said he was "confused" as to why the Gov thought it was necessary to call a special session, but he was optimistic "something" could be "worked out" to ensure that no one on the Range ran out of money.

And when the first of the year came and went without anything having been "worked out" and a lot of people on the Range started running out of income, he said it was too late for a special session, but that he was optimistic that the House and Senate would pass legislation during the first week of session (four months after the Gov had called for a special session).

And when that didn't happen, Speaker Daudt said he was optimistic that a "clean bill" could be put together as soon as Republican House members were assured that businesses would receive $300 in unemployment insurance tax "relief" (in exchange for the $38 or $39 million cost of helping the laid off people on the Range who needed it).

The Governor called Speaker Daudt's and House Republican's actions "political hostage taking" and "despicable blackmail," but there was Kurt Daudt in front of the "media opportunity" cameras with his awe-shucks smile and tone saying the equivalent of, "Well now . . . We all know how the Governor gets sometimes, but I'm optimistic we can get this worked out and make sure the great people of the Range get the help they need and deserve."

And, last Friday, with less than three days left to go in the session and huge differences on huge and important two-year-old issues still clogging things up, there was Kurt Daudt saying, once again, "Obviously we have some differences, but I am optimistic."

Kurt Daudt may be perpetually optimistic, but by any objective measure, and regardless of "political persuasion," his tenure as "leader" of the House of Representatives has been an abysmal failure.

Some version of the transportation, tax, supplemental spending, bonding and other important bills may (and probably will) wind up getting passed by the House and Senate in the next 12 hours, but, once again, we have a Massive Legislative Logjam at the very end of session. Worse, in many ways, than last year's when, among other murky, probably still unrealized things:

- The MPCA Citizens' Board disappeared (without ANY committee hearings, public discussion, committee votes, etc.); and (also without any hearings, prior votes, etc.)

- "Mine owners and operators" were given an exemption (in STATUTE, "by Rule") from having to applying for "solid waste management" permits.

But at least as "disturbing" as that is the total disregard for the thing I mentioned near the beginning . . . Speaker Daudt's (and House Majority Leader, Joyce Peppin's) two-year "time management" and "negotiating" failure has made it IMPOSSIBLE for ME or any other "average Minnesota citizen/voter" to:

A) Know what's in, or understand, the legislation my representatives will be voting on within the next 12 hours; and

B) Let them know how I'd like them to vote on ANY of those things.

Kurt Daudt may be optimistic about the result of two years of that kind of "leadership" and "governing," but I'm not.

Dearth of comments

Maybe precisely BECAUSE of the impossibility of knowing or exerting any constituent feedback to our legislators on issues that are hashed out in the 12th hour as you pointed out. It actually affords them a strange kind of cover in lack of accountability. But it leaves a lot of us "mere mortals" feeling pretty helpless . . . . .

What's to discuss?

Fresh Air?

I figured the regulars were all out doing yard work or simply enjoying a wonderful weekend. Not so bad.

This morning we read the transportation bill died. Many reasons. November will tell the tales of this weekend.

Republicans

Use this type of subterfuge and last-minute dealing to sneak in laws no one can testify, see or discuss. All to use as evidence that they deliver to their masters-big business, the CoC, wealthy donors, etc. they do not even make any pretense of doing something for the common citizen.

Two hours ago they submitted a bill they wanted to use to leverage bonding, it would allow local government to overturn any future paid family leave. Mind you there were no such bills, just payback to the Chamber of Commerce so they can say they have delivered on the money the CoC sends them.

After two years we do not have a Safe ID bill, nor any sort bonding, nor transport, nor ECF, but we do have Blaze Pink hunting gear. Way to go GOP

Blaze Blue hue?

Check on what the Senate did with only 8 minutes to go Sunday night. Not the first time, either. No time to read a revised bill undoubtedly containing a bunch of contested stuff. Of course the intended effect occurred.

Bash Republicans if it feels good. The DFLers don't exactly have Clean Genes in this legislative body.
Is there a Blaze Blue hue?