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Opening Day: 86th Legislative Session

Published (2/4/2010)
By Sue Hegarty
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House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers holds up a backpack saying, “I’m ready to get to work,” after being congratulated by House Majority Leader Tony Sertich on being elected minority leader. Rep. Marty Seifert resigned as minority leader following the 2009 legislative session to concentrate on his run for governor. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)For many House members, opening day of the 2010 Legislative session wasn’t a matter of picking up where they left off last May, since many never really stopped working during the interim.

“There’s been a ton of work done ahead of this legislative session starting,” said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls). “There’s often a very fast pace to this session so a lot of … the work, that’s pre-work to make sure these bills get passed, gets done ahead of time,” Kelliher said.

She wasted no time getting the session under way just after noon Feb. 4 by lifting 3-year-old Will Zellers and 5-year-old Reagan Zellers into the air so they could pound the gavel on the rostrum. They are the children of new House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) and his wife, Kim.

Busy Interim

Between May and February, many lawmakers attended roundtable discussions with business owners throughout the state and heard ways to reduce the state’s anticipated $1.2 billion biennial budget deficit.

Kelliher said members also spent hours on the capital investment proposals, meetings of the Jobs Task Force, and other issues including the Gang Strike Force.

Members pre-filed 213 bills with the chief clerk’s office on Jan. 7. They include funding requests for an array of projects, including schools, transportation, flood control and local and regional infrastructure. These bills were given their first reading Feb. 4, the same day another 117 bills were also formally introduced. Besides these new bills, those that failed to become law last year are still in play and can be considered for approval.

Rep. Diane Loeffler, front, gets a hug from Rep. Marsha Swails in the House Chamber on the opening day of the 2010 legislative session. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Opening Day

The first year of a two-year biennial session is considered the “budget year,” when legislators work on crafting a two-year state budget. The second year of a biennium, such as 2010, is known as “the bonding year.” House finance division bonding recommendations have already been vetted informally through committees and forwarded to the House Capital Investment Finance Division.

Those recommendations have been incorporated into HF2700, sponsored by Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul). The bill calls for nearly $1 billion in general obligation bonding.

Another key piece of legislation introduced on opening day was HF2695, an economic development and jobs bill sponsored by Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington).

In other floor action, Rep. Paul Gardner (DFL-Shoreview) publicly apologized for “unkind remarks on Twitter” about his colleagues last year. This came as a result of a complaint filed against him by two Republican House members, and heard by the House Ethics Committee in June.

The Days Ahead

Now the action begins: bills will be heard in committees and divisions, some will make it to the Senate, and some will make it to law.

By statute, legislators must adjourn sine die by midnight, May 16. After they adjourn, bills left in limbo from the past two years are considered dead.

Still ahead, Zellers said the Republicans intend to introduce two key forms of legislation: a Sunset Commission, modeled after Texas, which would save the state money by eliminating outdated laws. “We pass a lot of bills. We introduce a lot of bills, but we do a pretty bad job of looking in the rearview mirror,” Zellers said.

The Republicans also plan to introduce legislation that offers regulatory relief, especially in the area of permitting, for building contractors. Zellers said that during the interim, contractors requested that when lawmakers return to St. Paul, they take the same pledge as doctors and agree to “do no harm” to the contracting industry.

As for the bonding bill, Zellers said he’s disappointed it does not contain an appropriation for expansion of the Moose Lake sex offender program, which has Republican support.

Contrary to public criticism that members drag their feet until the end of each session, Kelliher said, “We actually passed bills earlier last year than in the 30 years previous, so that’s a misconception out there about how fast we did our work.” Look for that pace to continue, she said. “We’ve ended on time every single year, so I’m pretty assured that we’ll be able to get that done again.”

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