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Capitol Chatter: Bakk suggests House OK disaster aid, then leave

ST. PAUL - The question on everyone's mind during a news conference about a special disaster aid legislative session was whether Republican leaders could keep their members from bringing up other issues.

For instance, Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, has mentioned the possibility of changing state law to remove Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's power to write constitutional amendment titles. The issue angers Republicans because Ritchie, a Democrat, rewrote titles for two GOP-backed constitutional amendment proposals that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

When asked if they could keep the special session limited to disaster relief, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said they did not think it would be proper to take up other issues, but neither promised to control their members.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he had a solution for what some consider a potential problem.

Zellers' Republican House caucus is much less likely to allow other subjects to take away from disaster relief, Bakk said, so the House should pass a disaster bill during what is expected to be a one-day late-August session and then go home. That would leave the Senate to either accept what the House passed or reject disaster aid all together, an unlikely outcome.

"The Senate (Republican) caucus is pretty unpredictable," Bakk said.

Bakk's scenario could play out because the Constitution requires the aid bill for communities affected by recent floods and wind storms to begin in the House.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton made it clear that he trusts Republican leaders, even though they avoided a direct answer to whether they could control their caucuses. The governor said he will rely on GOP leaders to find a way to rule anything other than disaster aid out of order.

The owner of one of Minnesota's most famous voices is offering to record someone's voice mail greeting.

Garrison Keillor of "The Prairie Home Companion" fame told opponents of the marriage amendment that is on the Nov. 6 ballot that if they contribute at least $3 to Minnesotans United for All Families by 6 p.m. Wednesday, their names will be entered in a contest "to win a Lake Wobegon voice for your voicemail."

The conservative Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is happy that a proposed Twin Cities-to-Duluth passenger rail line appears sidelined, but says the plan is not dead.

The newly passed federal transportation bill favors highway funding, but does not include money to open the long-discussed Northern Lights Express.

"For now, NLX remains on life support, sustained by $9 million in state and federal funding already in the pipeline," a foundation news release reported.

"I am grateful that there are finally people in Congress who are willing to say 'no' when 'no' is the right answer," said Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, chairwoman of the Anoka County board. "We cannot continue to spend money we don't have on projects we don't need."

Those who say NLX would not be financially viable say they fear money already appropriated will just buy time until the next federal transportation bill passes, perhaps in 2014.

State agencies use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to varying degrees.

A recent check showed agency Twitter followers range from 79 for the Corrections Department to 5,450 for the Department of Natural Resources.

A new page provides links to Minnesota government Facebook and Twitter pages: