Capitol abuzz as

Megan Boldt

The first day of the Minnesota state Legislature was business as usual, complete with legislators debating on the floor and protesters chanting in the rotunda.
Most legislators, legislative assistants and other Capitol workers could be found throughout the state Capitol on Tuesday, chatting excitedly to colleagues as the first debates of the session brewed on the House floor.
“You get to see these people you really like and also like to work with,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, about the first day of the session.
Kahn described the opening day like the first day of school for children, and how they get excited seeing all their friends.
A typical first day for the House of Representatives and the Senate is an introduction of every bill being proposed this spring. It also includes protesters yelling just outside the door.
Besides a few legislators debating on the floor of the House, the most exciting people at the Capitol were about 150 protesters gathered in the rotunda to protest state welfare-reform laws.
Protesters from around the state, including Duluth, came to the Capitol to convince legislators to stop welfare sanctions for numerous reasons, said Minneapolis resident Chile George, a protester.
George, a Hennepin County Welfare Rights Committee member, said the sanctions did not allow welfare recipients to receive an education or affordable housing.
“Every time we take a step forward, (the legislators) push us two steps back,” George said.
She described the welfare system as a form of modern slavery.
“They treat us like we want to stay on welfare,” George said. “We don’t, though.”
The current system will never get recipients off welfare, she added.
Those who have been at the Capitol the first day of session say protests are not uncommon.
Kahn said there are often demonstrations on the first day of the session, prompting talk of getting security guards for the Capitol. She opposes that proposal.
“We want people to feel like the Capitol is a place where they are welcome and can come to,” Kahn said.
Despite the noise in the rotunda, legislators continued with their business within the House and Senate chambers.
Two motions were brought before the House on Tuesday. One bill questioned whether certain exam questions on standardized tests are an intrusion of privacy. The other discussed prayer during House floor meetings.
Both motions failed, which is common for bills debated this early in the session, Kahn said.
“Usually in order to pass something this early, you need the support of both party leaders and the governor,” Kahn said.

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.