End of the 2007 Legislative Sesssion


As I talk to friends and others who are still wondering what the events of the final hours at the state legislature will mean for us, I have been spending a little more time thinking about it.  Some say we got the job done and did not have to go into special session, others say we didn't finish our work because we still had a bonding bill and an elections bill and the constitutional designated funding bill to bring to the floor.  I suppose in a way both points of view are right.  

The end was certainly dramatic.  The minority party exercised the filibuster to stop the majority from governing; and the majority in the end used what tools it had to get a 20070103_speaker_2.jpgbudget done.  I don’t hold it against the minority for doing what they thought they had to do to represent the wishes of their special interest groups.  I remember when the tables were turned I was glad to see Democrats attempt to hold the line on some things.  I also think it is an unfair characterization to say the minority was silenced, they had ample time to express their objections and were clearly attempting to do what they could to hold us up.  In the end Speaker Kelliher and Majority leader Sertich showed calm resolve in the face of a barrage of angry complaints.

We are constitutionally bound by a time constraint (90 legislative days) that prescribes how long we can be in session.  Even in the electronic age it takes time to process andcapitolpic2.gif produce the bills we discuss and pass. The reality is that when you accept the constraint it is difficult to work everything out; and when you add to that an opposing minority party that uses what ever tools it has to derail the process a collision with the so called ‘endtime’ is unavoidable.

This was the first time since 1999 that the Legislature finished its work on time in a budget year.

In my ruminating I came upon the copy of the Centennial edition of our Legislative Manual or Blue Book from 1957.  Chapter 1 describes "The Legislative Department" and on page 21 an interesting passage begins,

"Growth of the state and a parallel increase in the number and complexity of the problems each Legislature must solve has made it increasingly difficult for the Legislature to finish its work within the prescribed time limit.

"This has led to clock stopping and clock covering, much criticized but apparently unavoidable devices to extend the time.  The Constitution give the Governor three days after adjournment to sign the bills.  By suspending time (covering the clock), the Legislature can use these days to pass bills.  In these cases the Journals of the House and Senate * the official records of their proceedings * show all actions, which took place after the legal bill-passing deadline as having taken place on the "last day."  For example: The 1957 Legislature covered the clock on April 24, the last day for passing bills.  This was done because many important bills were still being considered in conference committees.  The last day for the Governor to sign bills was April 29.  Therefore, the legislature was able to extend the time for passing bills on "April 24" to approximately 143 hours.

"Only one Legislature in recent years, that of 1953, adjourned on time.  The 1955 and 1957, deadlocked over taxes, were unable to finish even by covering the clock and leaders were forced to ask the Governor to call special sessions.  In each case the special session lasted one day."

I mention this not to judge the actions of my leadership, who I believe are to be commended for wanting to show that we could govern in a way that was respectful of capitolpic.gifthe opposition and show a willingness to work with them but not let them manipulate the system to keep us from moving forward.  For the most, part committee work and the dealing with bills, was handled fairly and in a way that put us ahead of schedule.  The struggles were with a Senate and Governor that were often pulling in a different direction and a house minority that felt they needed to work against us at every turn.

In hindsight it may have been possible to ask for a one-day special session to complete the unfinished bills but considering everything (troubles in conference committees, a Governor who does not seem to have the constitution to agree on something and a house minority that loves to filibuster) I doubt it would have improved the situation.

Over all, I found my first session in the legislature a fascinating and rich experience.  I1budget0511e.jpg treasure the friendships I made and the opportunity to serve the citizens in my district.

This session saw a renewed focus on the core issues facing Minnesotans.  Our state's residents can be pleased with the reasonable and fiscally responsible approach the Legislature took in addressing Minnesota's needs.   

The accomplishments of this year's session are diverse and meaningful: significant health care reform initiatives to control costs for the 93 percent of Minnesotans who currently have insurance; expanded access to health care for 37,000 children and 20,000 adults; important consumer protections including restrictions against predatory lending; major investments in programs that will help veterans and active military members who have made enormous sacrifices to serve our country; a historic renewable energy standard; goals for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and meeting energy efficiency/conservation standards; a comprehensive public safety initiative, which includes the hiring of more police officers;  the closing of corporate tax loopholes; and an expansion of the property tax refund program.

In addition, in the area of education, the Legislature built a solid foundation for future progress.  Highlights include:

stabilization of K-12 funding with an overall 6% increase including a 25% increase in special education funding, which has been an under-funded blynfldmddlschlrs2.jpgfederal mandate for years; efforts to close the achievement gap by restoring past budget cuts to early childhood programs; progress toward statewide all-day kindergarten; and investments in higher education to end years of double-digit tuition increases.

 Even with the historic successes of this year's session, there remain additional issues that must be addressed in the future.  In particular: 

permanent property tax relief.  Property taxes have skyrocketed out of control—up $2 billion over the past four years.

There was a proposal put forward this year to deal with the problem, but the Governor had other priorities, and so the issue did not get addressed.  

In the area of transportation, recent studies indicate we need an additional $1.5 billion invested in our transportation system every year simply to stay even when it comes tomoney.jpg congestion and upkeep of our current infrastructure. The lack of adequate transportation funding has resulted in Minnesota drivers paying an annual "congestion tax" of over $740 in wasted time and fuel.  The Legislature passed a major transportation initiative to start to correct the situation, but the Governor vetoed it.    

As we look to the future, it is my hope that in upcoming sessions we can build upon the positive elements that were enacted this year, and strive to improve those measures in need of reform.  I am committed to working in cooperation with all legislators for the good of our community and will always place Minnesota's long-term needs ahead of partisan politics.  However, in a system that’s whole purpose is to acknowledge conflict and attempt to resolve it I recognize partisanship is something that will never be erased in a democracy.  The alternative is dictatorship where only one voice speaks for the people and I am not hearing many say they want that.

In the coming days I will summarize the key measures in the various omnibus bills if you have questions please don't hesitate to e-mail me. 

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