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Legislators begin historic special session

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature went into a historic special session this morning, the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.

After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.

"We are making a bit of history today," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. "I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building."

While the location was historic, the reason legislators gathered is not. At 11 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton called them into today's session to finish passing the state's $42 billion, two-year budget. Four times since 2000 they have returned to St. Paul to finish passing budget bills.

The scene outside the temporary House and Senate chambers was chaotic this morning, with the public competing for a handful of tickets to let them in the cramped chambers. Lawmakers wondered how the day would go, with three budget bills that were vetoed and then rewritten at the top of the agenda. Also to be debated were a public works finance bill, a measure funding outdoors and arts projects and legislation to make corrections in bills passed during the regular session that ended May 18.

In the spotlight was a bill funding agriculture and environment programs, which Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said may not have enough votes to pass. If it doesn't, more negotiations and a second special session would be needed.

Many Senate Democrats say the environmental provisions are too weak and some Republicans oppose it for policy and spending.

The House went into session promptly at 10 a.m., but it took senators 15 more minutes to get to work.

Legislators used theater-type seats in cramped quarters in the committee rooms-turned-legislative chambers.

Daudt predicted the House would be done by mid-afternoon, but few others appeared that optimistic. One reason for other predictions was that it took the House seven and a half minutes to call the names of each House member for every vote, when in the regular session votes can come quickly via electronic voting board, which was not available today.

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.
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