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Shutdown Day 19: Special session starts, stops as shutdown end nears

The Minnesota Legislature went into special session this afternoon to pass a state budget, almost immediately recessing to discuss the bills in private.

There was no indication when lawmakers would approve spending more than $35 billion in the next two years, ending the state's longest government shutdown.

Before recessing, senators heard Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, say that a document legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton signed that says no budget bill will be amended carries no legal weight. He said legislative leaders cannot tell members what they can do.

The agreement says the session will end by 7 a.m. Thursday.

The legislative session began four hours after Dayton signed a proclamation calling lawmakers back into special session to pass the state budget.

"We worked very, very hard, literally around the clock ... for the last four days and night," Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said, flanked by Republican leaders House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.

Dayton said neither side got all they wanted because they came to budget talks from "very different points of view."

Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he expects the Legislature to begin meeting at 3 p.m. and work through the night as long as it takes to pass nine budget bills, a public works funding bill and a measure to fund outdoors, clean water and arts projects from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008. Two other routine bills also are expected to pass.

An agreement signed by Dayton, Republican leaders and Democratic-Farmer-Laborite leaders promises there will be no changes in the bills.

Dayton said state government should start reopening as soon as he signs the bills into law, but some workers may not be back on the job right away.

The announcement came two hours after Capitol doors swung open to the public this morning for the first time since June 30.

By noon, three of the nine budget bills have been approved by Dayton and legislative leadership and are available to the public at More of the bills are to be posted as the day progresses.

At the same time, the Dayton administration is calling back some of the 22,000 laid-off state employees to gear up for a special legislative session.

The session is needed to pass the budget bills that were worked out in secret since Dayton and key lawmakers agreed to a budget framework Thursday.

Dayton and lawmakers have come under fire for working out the deal in private in a closed Capitol. Dayton's office announced Monday night that he would reopen the Capitol so the public would watch budget action, although it appears the major budget meetings had ended by the time Capitol doors opened.

Dayton and Zellers defended the secrecy, saying they were working off of bills that passed before the regular legislative session ended on May 23.

The Capitol closed, workers were laid off and many state services were suspended on July 1 when Dayton and Republican leaders failed to reach a budget deal by the time the budget ended on June 30. However, all of the legislative and judicial branches of government remained open, along with the attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor offices.

A judge ordered a third of the Dayton administration's workers to stay on the job to provide essential services such as law enforcement and road repair.

But parks were closed, many services suspended, rest stops barricaded and many bars could not buy alcohol because their state permits to do so expired. Those will not change until the Legislature passes and Dayton signs the nine budget bills.

Also due up during a special session will be the so-called legacy bill that used a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008 to fund outdoors and arts programs. And a public works funding bill, probably spending $500 million, likely will be debated.

The Minnesota shutdown is the longest and most extensive in state history and longest in the country in at least two decades.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.