U lobbies for special session

by Stephanie Kudrle

From rallying its grassroots campaign to writing letters to legislators, the University is exploring different ways to encourage a special session at the State Legislature.

The Republican-controlled House and DFL-controlled Senate disbanded more than three weeks ago without passing many bills, including the state’s capital bonding bill. Only Gov. Tim Pawlenty can call legislators back for a special session to address bills not passed in the regular session.

Without a special session and an approved bonding bill, the University will not receive any of the $155.5 million they have requested for building and renovation projects.

University lobbyist Donna Peterson said it has been a long time since legislators failed to pass any funding for a bonding bill.

She said University President Bob Bruininks sent a letter to all 201 legislators to stress the importance of a special session.

In the letter, Bruininks told legislators that the University brings in $500 million in research funds and creates hundreds of jobs each year. But without the bonding bill, he wrote, the University would not be able to carry out many projects that would help it remain competitive.

“The University is world class because generations of Minnesotans have wisely invested in its operating and capital needs,” he wrote.

“We cannot provide a 21st century education or conduct research in 20th century facilities.”

Among the projects seeking funding in the University’s bonding request are renovations for Kolthoff Hall and the Education Sciences Building, as well as classroom additions for the Academic Health Center.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she was impressed by Bruininks’ letter and was disappointed legislators did not pass the bonding bill.

“This was certainly a very depressing session for the University and for issues that require progressive action,” Kahn said.

It will be difficult to get both sides to agree on a special session this year, Kahn said, because Pawlenty is laying out his own terms for calling legislators back.

One of those terms includes voting on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

While the State House has already passed the amendment, the Senate has yet to vote on it. Kahn said she opposes the constitutional amendment and does not think it should be included in the special session.

“As long as the governor keeps insisting the constitutional amendment be part of it, the Senate will never agree to a special session,” she said.

Pawlenty met with Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson on Thursday to talk about terms for a special session.

In a statement, Pawlenty said no agreement was reached, but the two discussed looking at bills such as bonding, the budget and public safety in an agreed-upon order.

“This arrangement would not automatically include or exclude the gay marriage issue from being considered,” he said in the statement.

In addition to sending letters to legislators, the University is also trying to contact Pawlenty.

Mike Dean, grassroots coordinator for the University’s legislative network, said he is urging the network’s 10,000 members to call the governor’s office.

He said a substantial amount of network members have received feedback from the governor’s office and he expects more to keep calling.

“It’s really up to the governor whether the session happens or not, and we’re trying to put pressure on him,” he said. “But it’s a very fragile situation.”

Mobilizing support is more difficult now that school is out, Dean said, because students and faculty members have left for the summer.

He said he is hoping the thousands of e-mails sent to legislators during the regular session will make a difference.

“It’s in legislators’ court right now,” he said. “We’ve sent over 8,000 e-mails to legislators asking them to support the bonding bill.”