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State Capitol reopens as signs point to end of shutdown

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Capitol doors swung open to the public this morning for the first time since June 30, one of several signs that a state government shutdown could be nearing an end.

An even stronger sign was that three of the nine budget bills have been approved by Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leadership and are available to the public at More of the bills are to be made public as the day progresses.

At the same time, the Dayton administration is calling back some of the 22,000 laid-off state employees to gear up for a special legislative session that could start at any time.

There was no word from legislative leaders or Dayton about when a special session could begin. The session is needed to pass the budget bills that were worked out in secret since Dayton and key lawmakers agreed to a budget framework Thursday.

Dayton and lawmakers have come under fire for working out the deal in private in a closed Capitol. Dayton's office announced Monday night that he would reopen the Capitol so the public would watch budget action, although it appears the major budget meetings had ended by the time Capitol doors opened.

The Capitol closed, workers were laid off and many state services were suspended on July 1 when Dayton and Republican leaders failed to reach a budget deal by the time the budget ended on June 30. However, all of the legislative and judicial branches of government remained open, along with the attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor offices.

A judge ordered a third of the Dayton administration's workers to stay on the job to provide essential services such as law enforcement and road repair.

But parks were closed, many services suspended, rest stops barricaded and many bars could not buy alcohol because their state permits to do so expired. Those will not change until the Legislature passes and Dayton signs the nine budget bills.

Also due up during a special session will be the so-called legacy bill that used a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008 to fund outdoors and arts programs. And a public works funding bill, probably spending $500 million, likely will be debated.

The Minnesota shutdown is the longest and most extensive in state history and longest in the country in at least two decades.