Legislature appears ready to blast through deadline
ST. PAUL -- Republican legislative leaders said for months they want to end the 2012 session Monday, but it probably will not happen.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, has been the big proponent of leaving Monday, but late Saturday admitted lawmakers may stick around longer.
"We will stay here to do really important work," Zellers said.
However, if GOP leaders think no more progress is possible, they still could go home for the year Monday.
"If we feel we have gone as far as we can go, there may be adjournment," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said Saturday night.
The main hang-up is whether Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders can agree on a tax-relief bill, mostly aimed at helping businesses. That is a priority for Republicans and they do not want to leave St. Paul without it.
"The tax bill is everything," Senjem said about a Republican proposal to give $52 million in tax relief next year.
Without a tax agreement, Senjem said, it is less likely lawmakers will pass the other two major remaining bills, a Vikings stadium construction plan and a public works financing proposal.
Zellers said Republicans want to negotiate all three major remaining bills, but he accused Dayton of breaking off talks. Dayton's office says GOP leaders have not asked for further face-to-face meetings, but Zellers said they have.
The speaker called the lack of negotiation sessions "a little disappointing."
"Slow progress" is how House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, referred to end-of-session negotiations. And that was one of the more positive comments.
Republicans blamed Dayton for lack of agreements to end the session.
"The governor has not been involved in training this up," Senjem said.
The public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, remains in dispute between Republicans, who lean toward a smaller bill, and Democrats, who want to spend more.
Senjem said it appeared there had been progress on a bonding plan, but "then it exploded into a much larger bill."
Senjem, who leads the Senate public works committee, admitted getting bonding votes will be tough. "We're on the edge."
Fees, wolves pass
A bill allowing for a wolf hunting season and raising hunting and fishing license fees was approved 68-62 in the House and 34-28 in the Senate Saturday night.
The bill also included a number of other outdoors- and environment-related provisions.
Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said she was concerned about the wolf hunting season established in the bill. She said the animal was just taken off the endangered species list and more consideration should be given to the issue.
Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said the plan is reasonable, limiting the take at 400 wolves. About 4,000 wolves are in Minnesota.
The fee increases were added when the House and Senate combined separate versions of their bills, although some House members had issues with the addition.
"We never got to vote on this on the House floor," Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said.
Sixty outdoors groups asked for the fee increases because a Department of Natural Resources fund that collects the funds could soon be broke.
But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the DNR did not prove it needed the funds.
"The people of Minnesota in my district are not asking for these fee increases," he said.
The bill now heads to the governor.
Sometimes, it appears Democrats and Republicans cannot talk to each other.
The Minnesota Legislature's top two Democrats joined Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton Saturday to ask House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, to take up the Vikings stadium bill right away in the full House.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he was ready to commit 34 Democratic votes to pass the measure.
Have you told that to Zellers, a reporter asked. "I'm telling him now," the minority leader said, looking at a roomful of reporters.
The Minnesota Senate approved a plan 35-28 that would eliminate seniority as the only standard for teacher layoffs.
"Ending seniority-based layoff will help our schools keep their best teachers in the classroom," Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, said. "This legislation will say 'you matter more than just when you signed your contracts.'"
The bill proposes, instead, to rely on teacher evaluations.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, wondered why a bill needed to be passed now without those standards in place. He also worried the change would allow administrators to "balance the budget on the backs of senior teachers" whose salaries are higher.
"This bill has no guarantee of keeping the best teachers in the classroom," Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.
The bill was approved 70-61 in the House and is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton, who is expected to veto it.
Gov. Mark Dayton has made heavy decisions in his years in state and federal government, many that affected lots of people's lives.
On Saturday, he talked about one particular judgment: "Probably the toughest decision I have had to make."
The topic? A bill he needed to sign or veto by last midnight that would allow more powerful fireworks, including those that shoot into the air.
Lawmakers apparently have been hearing from people not only across Minnesota but throughout the world on a potential new Vikings stadium.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said he checked his email one morning and had received 987 messages overnight, most about the stadium. He has heard from people as far away as Australia on the project being debated at the state Legislature.
"It is helping," Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, told stadium supporters rallying at the Capitol on Saturday of their efforts contacting lawmakers.
"Thanks for all the emails," Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said as he shook ralliers' hands.
Vikings fans applauded for lawmakers supportive of a new stadium during a Saturday rally at the Capitol, including Republican Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck.
Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, gave a short speech and then went inside the House chambers. But he emerged a few minutes later with Anderson.
"Here's another 'yes' vote," Kriesel said as the group cheered. Anderson waved and quickly went back into the chamber.