ST. PAUL (AP) -- After nearly a month of fruitless negotiations, some leaders at the Legislature think it might be time to consider mediation to help resolve the issues that triggered a special session.
Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-Mankato, the assistant majority leader, planned to talk about the possibility of using a mediator with House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan.
"It's a concept that flows from our trial litigation experience," said Hottinger. He and Pawlenty are lawyers. "It would have to be someone who understands the issues -- somebody who both sides can trust."
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said Monday that the idea was "certainly worth exploring."
A special session called by Gov. Jesse Ventura began at 8 a.m. Monday. Virtually the entire $27.3 billion, two-year state budget is on the agenda. Legislators reached the constitutionally set adjournment date for their regular session May 21 with only one of the nine major budget bills approved and that was vetoed.
Legislative leaders and committee chairs have worked intermittently since then to try to put together bills covering property tax overhaul, K-12 and higher-education funding, health care, transportation and human services.
But before the budget bills can be finished, the Independence Party governor, the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled Senate must resolve their budget dispute. It centers over the level and distribution of property tax relief -- particularly for commercial properties and homes -- and funding for K-12 education.
Hottinger said he and Pawlenty are "much bigger supporters" of the mediation idea than Sviggum and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine.
Hottinger suggested that a bipartisan duo of former legislative leaders, such as former Republican House Speaker Dave Jennings and former DFL Speaker Bob Vanasek might, fit the bill. He said Ventura's revenue commissioner, Matt Smith, could also help bridge the gap.
Hottinger's idea would be to allow a mediator to work out differences between the House and Senate, leaving Ventura on the sidelines. "It's pretty complicated to make it a three-way mediation," Hottinger said.
Sen. Ed Oliver, R-Deephaven, made a pitch for the idea on the Senate floor.
"Maybe the leaders should pass the baton to their second in command," he said. "Maybe we should call for a facilitator, a mediator. ... You can't have everything."
"We've got to stop looking like a disaster, get our work done, and adjourn," Oliver added.
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