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Capitol Chatter: A taxing week at the Legislature

ST. PAUL — Legislative deadline weeks always are hectic, usually produce heated debates and sometimes result in major action.

Count the past week as one that wrapped together all three.

Deadline weeks, it should be explained, are those in which some bills must pass out of committees if they are to survive (although there are lots of ways to keep bills moving even if they miss deadlines).

Going into the week, legislators are expected to be busy and to work long days. That pretty much happened, but with a bit of added drama thrown in.

Monday: Calm before storm

The week began with a busy, but relatively calm Monday.

A somewhat controversial plan to delay increased use of biodiesel failed in a Senate committee and a pet breeders licensing bill advanced. There was plenty of other activity, but it was not as showy as Capitol observers would see later in the week.

Tuesday: Dem vs. Dem

Legislators committed plenty of news Tuesday, including discussing raises for home health care workers, whether to legalize allowing drivers who violate traffic laws to opt to take classes instead of paying tickets and senators looked at increasing the state budget reserve.

The big news broke late in the afternoon.

The last thing most people around the Capitol knew, Gov. Mark Dayton was in a body cast after Feb. 10 hip surgery. So it was a bit of a surprise when his office issued an advisory saying he would be available to reporters.

Hobbling in on a pair of aluminum crutches, but without a cast, Dayton stood at a podium and said he was well, but he was not happy that Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, was holding up a tax-cut bill until a House committee approved construction of a Senate office building.

“Very, very, very disappointed” is how Dayton described his feeling.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, agreed with Dayton that the Senate was stalling a tax bill similar to one House members had approved March 6.

An hour and a half after Dayton blasted fellow Democrat Bakk, the Senate leader and Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, told reporters they planned to take up the tax-cut bill Thursday.

Wednesday: Working on details

A House committee backed a plan to help first responders deal with crude oil disasters and a committee debated an anti-bullying bill, but most attention focused on Taxes Committee work on the Senate version of the tax bill.

It would cut $432 million in taxes (although lawmakers, reporters and others around the Capitol reported a variety of other figures).

Thursday: Let’s read it

The most dramatic day of the week began with the announcement that Rep. Kurt Zellers and his wife Kim became parents of their third child.

Kurt Zellers said he and his wife early in the pregnancy discussed the implication on his run for governor and they agreed the campaign should go on. Bennett Hans Zellers arrived five weeks early, and after an ambulance ride to the hospital, weighing 5 pounds, 12 ounces.

But taxes eclipsed the Zellers news.

Most around the Capitol expected senators to debate the tax bill in the early afternoon, but Republicans said they had not had time to read the 62-page bill. Many said they received the bill just an hour before debate began.

Without the needed GOP votes to suspend rules to rush the bill to a vote, Bakk had no choice but to postpone debate until Friday.

Soon after the Senate inaction, Dayton called a news conference. He walked out, still on crutches, with Bakk, who just two days earlier was the governor’s target for harsh words. Now, however, the governor turned his fire to Republican senators who refused to debate a bill they just received.

In a typical Dayton move, he invited Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, to the podium to counter what he himself had just said.

Friday: The final day

The week ended with pretty much all attention again focused on taxes as the Senate and House finally debated the measure.

But it was not simple. Senate debate began with a hot exchange about the estate tax and arguments continued through the day.

Republicans liked to return to a theme: Democrats who control the House, Senate and governor’s office passed $2.3 billion in tax increases last year, and this year only wanted $443 million in cuts.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.