Unable to complete work on most of their major budget bills Minnesota lawmakers convened in a special session today at the state Capitol. The lawmakers were expected to recess after a brief session and then meet again later this week.
Left unfinished were bills on taxes, health and human services, transportation, K-12 education and other issues.
Reactions of area legislators to the 2003 regular legislative session ranged from satisfaction to dismay.
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, expressed disappointment the House and Senate were not more productive during the first three or four months of the session. He said it appeared that much of the committee work was just for show and that bill provisions that he thought had been defeated could sometimes reappear.
"It seems that nothing is dead around here until we adjourn," Koering said today.
He was pleased an accord was reached to balance the budget without raising taxes since the state is still suffering the effects of a recession. He noted that many issues he voted for -- ones that Republicans had been working on for years -- became law this year. Those bills include conceal and carry, the woman's right to know and a Pledge of Allegiance bill.
The Senate's last-minute parliamentary maneuvering and ultimate inaction on a nuclear waste bill Monday night frustrated Koering.
"It's an extremely important issue," he said. "We went four months and virtually did nothing and now we wait until the last day and the last hour to talk about storage of nuclear waste. It has to be introduced all over again."
Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, was more upbeat and predicted the Legislature would finish its business in a day or two.
Saxhaug was pleased that housing and redevelopment funding for low-income housing was extended for Aitkin County as was a property tax exemption for a business incubator program at Aitkin County industrial parks.
Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, devoted much of her energy to an all-terrain vehicle bill that went through substantial revision after it originally passed in the Senate. The final bill calls for forest trails to be closed to ATVs unless they are posted open.
"While we're happy to provide them with trails, they have to ride on those trails," she said.
The first-term senator was disappointed enforcement and education money were stripped from the bill. She also said the decision to keep ditches open to ATV use unless the county posts them as closed merely shifts the problem to counties.
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, who represents the Spider Lake area that was damaged by off-highway vehicles, said the compromise bill didn't please everyone but was a giant step forward.
Howes was pleased the health and human services bill, which is awaiting passage, contains provisions for a 400-bed regional jail at Ah-gwah-ching. The facility would be a joint venture involving Cass, Beltrami and Itasca counties. And while the state hospital at Ah-gwah-ching is tentatively scheduled to close along with others in 2007, Howes said he thinks the state is going to need facilities to house about 80 hard-to-place patients and that Ah-gwah-ching would be well positioned to serve in that role if it were close to the regional jail.
He also would like to see an urgent care center established at the site since Cass County has no hospital.
Howes said it will be up to local governments to hold the line on property taxes.
Two of Koering's priority projects, $1 million for cleanup at the site of the former Hennepin Paper Co. in Little Falls and $2 million for a Garrison sewer project, are still alive in a scaled-back bonding bill.
Also in the bonding bill, according to Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd, was $6 million in rehabilitation funds for the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center. He said that improvement was adopted by the Legislature last year but vetoed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Walz said the Legislature is in better shape in terms of finance bills than it was when it convened a special session two years ago. He expects the Legislature will complete its work before the weekend.
Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, authored an agriculture environment and economic development bill, which he said restored some of the cuts the governor had called for in dislocated workers and displaced homemakers programs. Minnesota Technology, an organization that provides resources for small businesses, was not as fortunate and will likely be phased out, he said.
Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said the session was nothing but chaos and a disappointment for rural Minnesota. He said Local Government Aid cuts were permanent while market value cuts, which traditionally affect the suburbs, were temporary.
"Rural Minnesota was taken to the cleaners," he said.
Solberg said property taxes would be raised and increased community college tuition could threaten the existence of some of those schools.
An amendment on turtle races, which are popular northern Minnesota tourist attractions, was attached to the agriculture policy bill by Howes. That bill was approved by both the House and the Senate and goes to the governor for his signature.
The legislation provides a legal way for groups to sell turtles for turtle races.
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