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Dayton works at home after hip surgery

ST. PAUL — Hip surgery will crimp Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s style as the state Legislature convenes for the year Tuesday.

In his first three years in office, Dayton frequently met with rank-and-file legislators from both parties about a great many issues. But since his Feb. 10 hip surgery, and his Valentine’s Day release from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Dayton has been in a brace and confined to the official governor’s residence in a swanky St. Paul neighborhood. And he likely will remain there for a while.

“I expect I will be involved and as time goes on I will be involved more,” the 67-year-old governor said during a telephone interview.

“I wish I could be at the Capitol,” he said, adding that he hopes people understand he cannot do that due to surgery.

Only his mobility is affected, not his thinking, Dayton said.

“Fortunately, none of my brain cells reside in my hip,” he said.

Dayton predicted he will talk to legislators via telephone rather than in person early this legislative session.

The early part of the session may be busier than usual. With a short session this year, after starting later than usual, legislators face a March 21 deadline to pass many of their bills. Committee schedules in the first few weeks of the session are full and some committees already plan night meetings, something usually reserved for later in the session.

Dayton said he has a meeting planned Monday with House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

One of his priorities may take a hit because he cannot lobby lawmakers in person: his concept of an “unsession.”

Dayton long has said he wants the Legislature to undo things this year that are not needed, like repealing obsolete laws. But at a Forum News Service-sponsored forum with legislative leaders, fellow Democrats did not appear to have the unsession enthusiasm that Dayton shows. It was not on a DFL session priority list.

“I don’t remember that the unsession was my initiative,” Bakk said when asked about it.

Bakk said the governor’s unsession proposal poses a political danger. A bill that overturns an outdated gun law, for instance, could end up being amended with a controversial provision that would force long, complex political debates with no public input on bills that were supposed to be routine.

The Senate leader said he told Dayton in November that he needed to “be ready to go” with unsession proposals since lawmakers do not plan to stick around long. In the interview, Dayton said he would unveil his plans in early March.

While Republicans have not rejected the unsession concept, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, echoed what many in the GOP say is their idea: “Go back and fix the mistakes of the last session.” In Republican eyes, that includes eliminating some tax increases approved in 2013, as well as killing the state’s MNsure health insurance marketplace, besieged by problems since its October launch. Democrats, however, support MNsure and say such talk politicizes the unsession concept.

Thissen said he supports efforts to repeal 40 of 160 state boards that do not function or are inactive.

“I hope that the bipartisan support for it isn’t taking your pet policy project and putting it in an unsession bucket,” Thissen said.

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.