Lawmakers out to get things done
ST. PAUL -- Rep. Doug Magnus' stocking cap said it all: "Get-R-Done." That was the attitude of many Minnesota legislators Wednesday as they kicked off their 2006 legislative session after two ugly sessions gave them a black eye. Lawmakers' theme ...
ST. PAUL -- Rep. Doug Magnus' stocking cap said it all: "Get-R-Done."
That was the attitude of many Minnesota legislators Wednesday as they kicked off their 2006 legislative session after two ugly sessions gave them a black eye.
Lawmakers' theme of the day was the same as the saying on the hat worn by Magnus, R-Slayton. Gov. Tim Pawlenty joined in trying to find ways to improve the legislative process. And legislators tackled high-profile issues ranging from eminent domain to mercury pollution in an unusually busy first day of session.
Pawlenty said the process can be improved, but admitted: "It's never going to be a ballet."
Minutes later, as a Northfield ballerina danced on the House floor, legislators said they are optimistic. Take Magus: "I think we have a sense of urgency now."
That urgency comes after last year's session that went two months beyond the constitutional deadline and included a partial government shutdown after lawmakers and Pawlenty could not agree on a state budget. A year earlier, the Legislature adjourned amid partisan bickering after passing little of significance.
On Wednesday, policymakers of all stripes had suggestions about how to improve things: Pawlenty wants to cut pay of legislators and the governor if they can't agree on a budget. A House committee favors a measure to keep government operating even without a budget. Freshman lawmakers say the Legislature should pass a public works bill before anything else.
Full meetings of the House and Senate were short and routine, but committees started voting on bills Wednesday afternoon, something that rarely happens on a session's opening day.
Pawlenty kicked off the day with Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, and Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, unveiling a bill that would stop the paychecks to legislators and the governor if they do not pass a budget.
"What are the results that we want on the last day of the session on this first day?" Dean asked. "We want to get our work done. ... If we want results, we have to have accountability."
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, promised committee hearings on the bill "soon and very soon." No such guarantee came from Senate leaders.
Later, the House Government Operations Committee unanimously approved two bills that would continue the state budget if no new budget is approved.
Sviggum did not like the idea, saying it sends the message to legislators that "you don't have to get your job done." But Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, said the public would continue to pressure lawmakers.
"This is geared toward being a last-resort situation," Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, said of the continuing budget bill.
A group of DFL House freshmen said they are worried that a public works bill, the session's top priority, will be threatened by partisan politics if it is not passed early in the session.
Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said the freshmen are asking Pawlenty and legislative leaders to work on the public works bill first.
"We all have individual issues and policies we want to pursue," said Moe. "However, this bonding bill will be good for the state as a whole. It addresses the issues that our the most important to every Minnesotan -- education, health care, conservation and jobs."
But he noted also at stake for Bemidji are bonding proposals for a regional events center, completing the Paul Bunyan Trail, money for projects at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, and statewide investments in natural resources.
Once a public works bill is done, Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, said, lawmakers can move on to other issues, such as making sure nursing homes and other public institutions have enough money to pay their heating bills.
"We are ready to get to work right away," she said.