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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

DFLers let loose with raft of complaints about agreement process

The 12 hour-plus session, which wrapped up after 3 a.m., rushed through each budget bill on largely party-line votes.
MinnPost photo by James NordThe 12 hour-plus session, which wrapped up after 3 a.m., rushed through each budget bill on largely party-line votes.

By James Nord | Wednesday, July 20, 2011
DFL legislators had a lot to complain about during Tuesday's special session, which passed a controversial budget plan to end Minnesota's 20-day government shutdown.

The 12 hour-plus session, which wrapped up after 3 a.m., rushed through each budget bill on largely party-line votes.

In the process, DFLers griped about everything: cuts, policies, kicking the can down the road and balancing Minnesota's budget on the backs of children.

They said the budget amounted to allowing parents to "sneak into their [children's] bedrooms and steal their piggy banks."

But beside all those complaints, the thing they hated most were the procedures used to arrive at the eventual shutdown solution.

DFLers say they didn't get a fair chance to provide their input in the whirlwind budget negotiations that took place after Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP leaders reached a tentative deal last week.

They also said the shadowy negotiations and short time for review of the finished bills (often a matter of hours or minutes) didn't do the public justice.
Rep. Erin Murphy
Rep. Erin Murphy
"I'd like to have seen you in the last days [of negotiations]," said DFL Rep. Erin Murphy during debate on the Health and Human Services bill. "I wasn't willing to trade my vote for a seat at the table."

It angered House DFLers — who frequently criticized their Republican colleagues — so much that Rep. Mindy Greiling and Rep. Michael Paymar are sponsoring legislation to prohibit such negotiations from ever happening again.

"To me this is a flawed process and, quite frankly, I think it's something we all should be ashamed of," Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said outside of the House chambers during one of the many lulls that punctuated the special session.

He offered one of the evening's more impassioned floor speeches. "I've never been more disgusted with a legislative process," Paymar said. "The public doesn't know what's in [the bills]. Most members probably haven't read them."

After the session ended, Paymar said he would drive home and "take a long, long shower to wash the stain of this legislative session off me."

Both Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Zellers have defended the closed-door negotiations, and both sides seemed eager to end the government shutdown, even if that meant short-circuiting usual legislative procedures.

Zellers has said that most of what's included in these budget bills got plenty of public hearings before Dayton vetoed the GOP budget. To some extent, he's correct. In fact, many of the bills' controversial policy provisions were removed as part of the agreement.
Rep. Dean Urdahl
Rep. Dean Urdahl
"Heck, we gave them time from 3 to 6 [p.m.]," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, speaking of the GOP's afternoon caucus. "That should've given them time to look them over."

But Urdahl's joke may have highlighted perhaps the most valid DFL argument: Budget bills were posted online for public viewing just hours before the legislative vote. And during the afternoon recess, the K-12 and Health and Human Services bills hadn't yet been made public.

The lack of transparency even angered Republicans. One GOP representative complained to a staffer on the House floor early today that his bill was still being tweaked at 12:30 a.m.

"Part of the problem is that in our desire to end this shutdown quickly … we essentially closed out the public from any oversight and any input in these massive omnibus bills," Paymar said.

On top of excluding the public, legislative Democrats felt the sting of being left out the proceedings. Rep. Thomas Huntley said he hadn't seen the HHS bill until shortly before session commenced, and others lodged similar complaints.

"Even the Republicans didn't know what was in the bills," Huntley said. "The process basically stinks."

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