Lawmakers open 2012 session hoping it's a short one
ST. PAUL -- Many in the Minnesota Legislature think the annual session that begins at noon today could be the shortest since 1998.
Plenty of others hope so.
For instance, Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said the only thing lawmakers must do this year is pass a public works funding bill. After that, they should go home, he said.
"I applaud the House and the Senate for wanting to do a short session," the mayor said. "I would like to see them not tinker around."
With a projected budget surplus, Voxland added, maybe lawmakers can leave local governments alone, so they can "take a deep breath and enjoy a year without having to scramble."
Legislators like the sound of a short session, in a large part because all 201 seats are up to election this year. Others just think a short session is the right thing to do.
The session begins today amid expectations that the major issues will be passing a public works bill, reforming state government, debating funding a Vikings football stadium and deciding whether to approve several constitutional amendments.
A year ago, lawmakers faced a $5 billion deficit, but that has been erased so they can concentrate on non-budget issues. However, if a Feb. 29 budget report shows new fiscal problems, the budget could again dominate.
Part of the reason a short session is predicted is so those running for re-election can campaign. And with new district maps to be released Feb. 21, that could speed things up even more as lawmakers feel the need to check out their new districts.
House leaders originally planned for an April 30 adjournment, nearly a month before their constitutional deadline. But when Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, suggested leaving St. Paul in early April, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, proclaimed the idea good.
The Legislature has not adjourned in April since 1998.
A five-judge panel's redistricting decision is prime among the reasons to match the 1998 mark.
"It is amazing what this election season drives," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
"I'm sure people will want to reach out to their new districts and understand their specific concerns," Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said.
"The last couple months of the session will be going on after people see the new districts and what they're going to look like," Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said. "It will be in the back of people's minds ... if you're running for re-election."
For Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, waiting for new district maps is like going to the doctor: ""It is sort of like waiting ... for prognosis from your doctor: Am I sick or am I going to get better?"
Last year's overtime budget battle, ending only after a 20-day government shutdown, remains on the minds of lawmakers and voters.
"If we don't get done on time this time, we all are going to be looking for trouble," Ingebrigtsen said.
Bakk said that lawmakers need to make their name good again after last year, and going home early would help.
Republicans, especially, want a short session.
"A majority of us think that is the way it should work," Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, said.
Many legislators said, at least for now, redistricting is out of their hands.
"I don't think it's much of a distraction," Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said. "Now it's in the court's hands. I think that allows us to focus on what we're supposed to be doing at the state level."
Other legislators said the goal for a short session is simply to finish their work efficiently.
"We're trying to get along the best that we can, get our work done and get back in our communities and try to help at the community level," Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said.
If the session is short, less would get done.
"It's a compressed session," Nornes said. "Ten weeks is the maximum we are going to be there, according to the plan. That really limits the expectations of huge changes."
Danielle Nordine and Don Davis report for Forum Communications Co. Andrew Tellijohn is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.