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Capitol chatter: Rhetoric up, cooperation down at Capitol

ST. PAUL -- Political rhetoric escalated in the Minnesota Capitol as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed four Republican-written lawsuit reform bills.

Dayton complained that Republicans did not talk to him or consider a court report on the issue before passing the bills.

"It appears to be just another political ploy," Dayton said Friday.

On the other hand, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said that Dayton had since May to express concern about the bills. That is when the Senate overwhelmingly passed them; the House passed them earlier in this still-young legislative session and the Senate approved little changes days ago.

"They have set the tone," Dayton said about Republican bills that he claims are not good for the average Minnesotan.

Zellers said the lawsuit reform bills came from businesses. "This is not a coalition of wrongdoers."

Senjem encouraged state leaders to take a different tone.

"I just find this morning to be a little disappointing," the leader said after learning about the vetoes and Dayton's comments. "It is time for the governor to put the spears down."

But Republicans took their shots at Dayton and his vetoes.

"The governor in vetoing them is no friend of Minnesota business," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen.

The Legislature has met about three weeks (with a four-day break for precinct caucuses) out of what some legislative leaders predict to be a 10-week session. The state Constitution requires them to adjourn by May 21, but most leaders want to leave much earlier.

Sviggum job questioned

The University of Minnesota regent chairwoman wants a legal opinion about whether former House Speaker Steve Sviggum may serve on the university's governing body while being the Senate Republicans' communications director.

"After I have considered the opinions of our attorneys, I will make a determination regarding the conflict and bring forward a recommendation to the board, or I will appoint an ad hoc group to assist me with these tasks," Chairwoman Linda Cohen said. "This is a complex and serious matter that warrants our careful review and due diligence."

While there is general consensus that a partisan elected official cannot be a regent, it is not as clear if a partisan staff member who does not make policy decisions can serve in both jobs.

"It is my intent to have the full board discuss and act upon any recommendation before, or at the beginning of, our regular March meeting," Cohen said.

At Cohen's request, Sviggum did not vote during the February regents' meeting, but he has contended since he took the Senate job early this year that there is no conflict of interest.

Did Pawlenty lose?

The whispers around the Capitol are that Tim Pawlenty was the real loser in Tuesday's precinct caucuses.

The former Minnesota governor dropped out of the Republican presidential race in August and soon joined Mitt Romney's campaign. He worked for Romney in Minnesota, just before Tuesday's precinct caucuses, but Romney finished far back in third place.

Pawlenty's wife, Mary, spoke at a Twin Cities suburban caucus in favor Romney, then caucus-goers gave strong support to Ron Paul, who finished second statewide.

State of State

Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his second State of the State speech at 7 p.m. Wednesday, televised statewide on public television's Minnesota Channel.

It will be the first night State of the State since then-Gov. Jesse Ventura sat without an live audience in front of a television camera at the governor's residence.

Dayton refused to give a preview of the speech, saying it remains a work in progress.

But Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, was ready with his own version.

"Let's not forget that the state of the state is good," Senjem said, because of Republican work in last year's legislative session.

Courtroom security bills

State and federal lawmakers are working to make courthouses safer in light of a Dec. 15 shooting of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell and a trial witness.

"Under no circumstances should our local sheriffs or court personnel have to put their lives at risk to ensure that the basic acts of our judicial system get carried out," U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said. "My legislation will give courtrooms access to the basic resources they need to make sure that every Minnesotan's day in court is safe."

The Franken bill, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as a co-sponsor, would help courthouses add security measure such as metal detectors.

Executive Director Jim Franklin of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association said most rural courthouses in the state have no metal detectors.

In the Minnesota Legislature, a bill has started its way through the process to allow local prosecutors to carry guns in courthouses, and in courtrooms with judges' permission.

New license Website

Minnesota's Driver and Vehicle Services Division has launched an updated website at

The Public Safety Department says it was created with the idea of making major destinations available in one slick.

"We've highlighted the services our customers use most, made forms and instructions more accessible and continued to encourage comments on how we're doing," division Director Pat McCormack said.

Dayton 50, Legislature 17

Minnesotans apparently like Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton better than the Republican-controlled Legislature.

A KSTP-SurveyUSA poll shows half of Minnesotans approve of Dayton's job performance, but just 17 percent say the same about the Legislature.

Dayton said he likes the numbers, but added that he treats it like perfume: It is OK to sniff, but dangerous to drink it.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, downplayed the poll results, saying that while legislative bodies often receive low marks, voters usually like their own lawmakers.

DON DAVIS reports for Forum Communications Co.