Legislators Go Missing, Others Protest Governor During Special Session

Lawmakers scramble to get work done before self-imposed deadline

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Lawmakers fail to complete business before their self-imposed 7:00 A.M. deadline. (Preya Samsundar/Alpha News)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Session ended constitutionally on Monday at midnight, yet, lawmakers are still hunkered down for a special session at the Capitol trying to pass several pieces of legislation before a self-imposed Wednesday, 7:00 a.m. deadline.

Lawmakers did not meet the 7:00 a.m. deadline and are nowhere near finished in their work Wednesday. In fact, only three of the proposed seven bills have been posted online for review, Preemption, Tax, and Education.

The House and Senate agreed to come back to the floor at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, but were quick to adjourn shortly after. The House called for recess at the call of the chair at 3:14 p.m. and the Senate at 3:12 p.m.

By 8:30 p.m., neither of the legislative bodies had returned from recess, but had released language for the Tax and E-12 Omnibus Bills.

The tax bill offers $650 million in relief for many Minnesotans, offering credit incentives to farmers, college students, and those on social security. The bill also increased cigarette taxes, while lowering the tax on premium cigars, from $3.50 to $0.50.

The E-12 Omnibus bill revived the once dead teacher overhaul licensing bill and included the Governor’s pre-K legislation.

The Pre-Emption bill, which would block local cities from instituting their own minimum wage and employee benefit rules, and was pushed forward by Republicans, had legislative leaders include language that would continue parental benefit leave for state employees.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he would veto any preemption bill sent to his desk. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Dayton’s office released this statement:

“It is unconscionable that Republican legislators would pit the earned financial security of hard working state employees and retirees against the rights of local officials to make the decisions for which they were elected by their citizens,” Dayton said. “Nevertheless, I have said that I will veto the preemption bill, and I will honor that commitment.”

Meanwhile, advocates for driver’s licenses for undocumented people protested in the rotunda of the Capitol and inside the Governor’s Office. Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton) snapped a photo of Minneapolis Mayoral candidate and State Rep. Raymond Dehn (D-Minneapolis) joining protesters in their sit-in.

Protesters even interrupted the joint tax working group, delaying their work for several minutes.

Republican leadership updated members of the media a little before 10:00 p.m. “If it becomes apparent we need more time, we will talk to the governor about that,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) told reporters.

Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) tweeted out later in the night that the Health and Human Services Omnibus Bill would not be ready until noon.

At approximately 11:30 p.m., after spending almost nine hours in recess, the House reconvened and suspended the rules to meet past midnight. Almost an hour later of chatter on the floor, Rep. John Lesch (D-St. Paul) asked, “Mr. Speaker, what are we doing right now?” Those around just laughed and Lesch’s question went without answer.

Members of the House started to debate the Tax Omnibus bill on the floor around 12:30 p.m. However, House Democrats offered three amendments to the tax bill, which violates the agreement signed by leadership and the Governor before the end of regular session. As a result, members of the House spent approximately 45 minutes on the floor with no debate or discussion on the tax bill.

Rep. Rick Hansen (D-St. Paul) proposed an amendment that would increase funding for Robert Street in West St. Paul by nine percent stating, “I brought this amendment not to disrupt any process, but to represent my community.”

Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) rose to ask DFL Minority Leader Rep. Melissa Hortman (D-Brooklyn Park) a question, but Hortman was not in the chamber. After waiting several minutes, members voted to have the Sergeant-at-Arms find the absent members. Hansen pulled his amendment.

Rep. Tina Liebling (D-Rochester) offered an amendment to remove language that would “tell communities how to spend their resources,” Libeling said. “This does not belong in a tax bill.” Libeling withdrew her amendment after stating how “ridiculous” and “mean” the language in the bill was.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) re-offered Liebling’s amendment asking for a roll call, stating that Minnesotans are tired of wasteful spending. Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) asked Drazkowski, “I don’t understand why we are taking up amendments that the author has withdrawn.” The amendment, per Drazkowski’s request, was voted down.

At 2:20 a.m., Peppin and Hortman engaged in a debate on the floor over whether either party would abide by the agreement signed by Legislative Leaders and the Governor to call a special session. The Chief Clerk was ordered to shout “Hortman! Hortman!” multiple times until she returned to her seat.

Members vetoed all seven amendments proposed by House Democrats. The bill was tabled at 3:30 a.m. during its third reading for a 30 minute recess.

However, the recess lasted a little after 5:00 a.m. and was able to pass the Tax Omnibus Bill 102-31.

The Senate went into session around 5:20 a.m., approximately 14 hours later than their last meeting, Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. They will now hear the Tax Omnibus Bill.

The House began debate on the Education Omnibus Bill, as Republican leaders posted the Transportation bill around 5:00 a.m.

Per the agreement signed between Legislative Leaders and the Governor, the special session will theoretically end at 7:00 a.m., but can continue beyond. The House is expected to adjourn at 7:00 a.m. per the agreement, but is expected to come back to debate and vote on the remaining five bills.

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