Capitol session proves taxing

by Erin Ghere

After being up all night, a tired House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, appeared before cameras Monday morning to announce final tax-cut numbers. After a few comments, he asked tax committee chairman Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, to speak and called him “Gene.” Abrams replied, “Thanks, Phil.”
Sviggum was not the only legislator dealing with sleep deprivation Monday as the 1999 legislative session came to a close. Several legislators who spoke on the floor prefaced their comments by announcing they had not slept much in the past 72 hours.
Committee members signed the health and human services bill at 7:45 a.m. Monday, after more than 12 straight hours of debate. Conferees began deliberations at 5 p.m. Sunday and dispersed to go home and take showers after the bill was finalized.
Even after all-night deliberations, the bill only escaped the House chopping block by four votes, after Rep. Steve Wensel, DFL-Little Falls, requested it be sent back to committee and revised. If affirmed, the movement for revision would have forced a special legislative session. The same proposal was voted on in the Senate and failed with a 39-28 vote.
“What’s wrong with taking a gamble and throwing the onus on the Senate and on (Gov. Jesse) Ventura?” Wensel provoked.
Ventura had threatened to shut down the government rather than call a special legislative session to vote on undecided bills. He spent Sunday evening walking through the Capitol and personally encouraging people to finish by Monday at midnight, a deadline set by the state constitution.
“The people of Minnesota can be proud of what we accomplished in this legislative session,” Ventura said in a statement released Tuesday. “Overall I couldn’t be happier with the results of the session.”
Along with the health finance bill, the K-12 education finance bill, tax bill and capital appropriations bill were all finalized in committee and voted on Monday. All bills passed Monday are expected to be signed or vetoed by the governor by the end of the week.
Legislators met on the floor three times Monday before any bills were ready to be discussed. Debate finally began at 1:30 p.m., but was again held up by other issues. The House held open the vote on the capital appropriations bill, which included $60 million for light rail, for two hours before there were enough votes for it to pass. During that time, debate on other bills could not occur.
Other motions, such at that to congratulate Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba’s daughter for turning 13 years old, took up time as well.
In an attempt to make up for the time lapse, laptop computers were used for the first time to speed up debate on bills that had not come from the copy service yet. The computers were also used by House members to play solitaire during the two-hour vote on the capital appropriations bill.
Legislators had different ways of amusing themselves during the long day. In the Senate, a cartoon of Hagar the Horrible tied to a stake saying “It’s time for sincere negotiations,” was passed around to members during debate.
Discussion on the state government finance bill was livened up by a clarification of unclear legislation. The bill had allocated $500,000 to erect a memorial to the late United States Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey; a senator asked if Minnesota builds memorials to honor all losing gubernatorial candidates, referring to Humphrey’s son, former Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III.
In the closing half-hour of the session, some representatives chanted “vote, vote, vote,” while their colleagues debated last minute qualms with the tax bill, which was voted on only eight minutes before the deadline.
In the end, all of the backlogs and all-night meetings evened out to close the session on time. At three minutes to midnight, the Legislature adjourned until Feb. 1, 2000.