Legislators work late

Erin Ghere

Bomb scares, fishing openers, political deadlocks and tell-all books are just a few of the reasons the state Legislature might not meet its deadline of midnight tonight.
To meet the deadline imposed by Minnesota’s Constitution, legislators worked late nights and early mornings throughout the weekend in an effort to push through the more than 20 bills that have been bogged down in committee debates. Gov. Jesse Ventura is the only person who can extend the deadline by creating a special session; he has said he will not do so.
Legislators have been in session 132 days, and with one left to go, Ventura is not being sympathetic.
“The Legislature has been in session for four months,” he said Saturday in a statement. “It is inconceivable that they should not be able to get their work done by Monday.”
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, suspended the rules of the Senate floor at 9 p.m. on Saturday so that debate could continue all night. Major hold-ups include tax cuts, abortion provisions and tobacco endowments.
Along with the everyday goings-on of the Capitol, unusual circumstances have added to the setbacks.
A bomb threat was called into the governor’s office Thursday evening, evacuating the Capitol and halting all committee meetings for the night. However, the Capitol’s intercom system malfunctioned, so news of the evacuation was spread by word of mouth and was not completed until nearly 30 minutes after the phone call came in.
Adding fuel to the backlog, Ventura released his tell-all book. “I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed,” last week, provoking legislators to hold up floor discussions with speeches protesting the nature of the biography. In his novel, Ventura discusses teenage sexual experiences, underage drinking and visits to red-light districts with his navy buddies more than 25 years ago.
With more than 20 bills still left to be decided on in the remaining hours, legislators will have to come to some compromises quickly.
Ventura, Republicans and Democrats are all split on the amount of tax cuts. A $1.3 billion sales tax rebate and $1.1 billion income tax cut have been agreed on, but the question of what to do with a remaining $5 million has held up the process for several days. In addition, committee co-chairman Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, is refusing to sign the bill unless a $20 million allocation is made for a steel plant in his district.
The $5.4 billion health and human services bill is deadlocked in committee because of three small abortion provisions. Some members want to include at least one of the three, although they are split on which one. Ventura has said he will veto any bill that includes abortion legislation, the most controversial of which is a ban on partial-birth abortions, and will not waiver on his position.
Funding for the University’s Academic Health Center is still up in the air as a result of the abortion debate. Legislative leaders established four endowments on Tuesday, but left it up to the health and human services committee to decide how much funding will be allocated for each. Democrats want to put the $968 million allocation into a smoking prevention endowment, while Republicans want to put it into medical education and a family foundation.
While legislators worked, Ventura spent Saturday in Grand Rapids, Minn., at the state fishing opener. He caught five fish, and First Lady Terry Ventura took home a 24-inch trout.
Ventura said he is going to recommend that the Legislature recess two weeks early next year, so legislators can enjoy the fishing opener as well. He added that it’s the legislators’ own fault that they could not attend the opener this year.