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Capitol Chatter: Let the legislative talks begin

This is a typical scene during end-of-session negotations. Here, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton looks at state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of Nisswa on May 5, 2017, after they and other legislative leaders met to discuss the state budget. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — About two weeks remain in the 2018 legislative session, so it is time for the work to begin.

At least it is time for the final work. Now is when the House, Senate and administration to sit down in conference committees and behind closed doors to reach deals.

Even-numbered years like 2018 normally are centered on funding public works projects. This year, such work nearly has been an afterthought as so many other issues have shot to the top.

How to spend a $329 million budget surplus, plus making other money changes, has taken over the No. 1 job spot. Negotiations should begin soon.

Minnesotans should watch those negotiations to see how the session will end. If those talks wrap up quickly, sending one overall spending bill to Gov. Mark Dayton in the next few days, it will be a sign that the Republican-controlled Legislature wants the governor to veto what is being called a megabus measure in time for lawmakers to rework it so a new version can be signed.

However, if the bill reaches Dayton's desks a day or two before the midnight May 20 deadline for passing bills, most of the 2018 legislative work may not get done.

Dayton frequently has said he will veto any bill that contains a provision he does not like. And there is no way a GOP-written bill the size of the megabus legislation can avoid provisions the Democratic governor does not like.

Most bills that have a chance to become law were folded into megabus, whether funding or policy items with no connection to money.

Lawmakers long have crafted what officially are known as omnibus bills, even over objections of leaders like Dayton who have tried to insist policy items move through the Legislature alone. This year's bill melts together nearly all funding and policy legislation.

There are, of course, a few bills that can pass without being in the megabus. But they are the exception.

Even those separate bills likely will be considered in global negotiations as Dayton and legislative leaders meet in private to decide how to wrap up the session. Usually, those talks include a lot of I-will-give-you-this-if-you-give-me-that discussions.

The safest bet is that those talks will wrap up the weekend of May 19 and 20.

Painting a reaction

It may be hard to handicap Richard Painter's chances to be elected to the U.S. Senate, but it is obvious that he will be a high-profile candidate.

Painter was ethics lawyer for Republican President George W. Bush and has been a nationally known Republican critic of President Donald Trump. But he got into the Senate race, challenging U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, as a Democrat.

"Richard Painter's candidacy appears motivated by a hatred towards President Trump," Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said. "That's not the kind of message Minnesotans are looking for, and that's not the kind of platform that can win in this state."

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman welcomed Painter into the race, even through the two had not talked.

"There are now three candidates vying to be the DFL candidate on the ballot in November, and DFLers across the state are excited to learn more about them in the coming weeks as we head into the state convention in Rochester," Ken Martin said.

Smith did not directly discuss Painter in her reaction to his announcement.

Smith is serving until this year's election, appointed by the governor to replace Al Franken. The Nov. 6 election will pick someone to serve out the remaining two years of Franken's term.

Morris youth influences

A 13-year-old Morris girl inspired potential life-saving legislation moving through the Legislature.

Alexis Lhotka told her story about dealing with Addison's disease, which grabbed the attention of Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, and Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley. She explained that state law bans ambulance personnel from giving her prescription medicine, and she said she would need those medications in emergency situations.

"Alexis and her mother Meredith came to me with their concerns for commonsense legislation that could potentially save lives," Westrom said. "Due to Alexis standing up and telling her story, Minnesotans statewide will benefit from these life-saving changes. She's a real hero in my book."

One of the medications used for Addison's disease is administered like an EpiPen. When someone with the disease experiences a medical emergency, they often cannot administer the medication themselves.

They always are watching

Political candidates need to always be aware the other side is watching.

Take, for instance, a news release from a national Republican organization that criticizes Democratic governor candidate U.S.Rep. Tim Walz. It was headlined "Washington Walz strikes again — Tim Walz caught rooting for DC soccer team, not Minnesota's."

The release included a photo of Walz wearing a Washington, D.C., soccer team T-shirt when he got off an elevator.

"What do Minnesota United FC fans think about Washington Walz's lack of Minnesota loyalty and embrace of Washington?" the GOP group asked.

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.