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Capitol Chatter: Franken question leads to Sessions' spotlight

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

ST. PAUL—U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Russia problems became big news the past few days thanks to Sen. Al Franken.

The Minnesota Democrat asked Sessions about the Donald Trump presidential campaign's ties to Russia. Since Sessions was close to the campaign, Franken thought it a legitimate question as senators weighed whether to approve Sessions to be attorney general.

"When then-Sen. Jeff Sessions testified under oath during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general, he explicitly told me that he had not been in contact with Russian officials in the course of the presidential campaign," Franken said.

But news reports began to surface that Sessions had talked to the Russian ambassador to the United States twice last year.

As some Democrats demanded that Sessions resign, Franken said he wanted more answers and that Sessions should not be in charge of a probe into the Trump campaign's contact with Russian officials.

"The American people deserve to know the truth about what happened between Russia and the Trump team, and I believe we need thorough and impartial investigations to get to the bottom of it," Franken said. "It's clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately."

Sessions did just that, but that did not stop the controversy surrounding his Russian contacts.

Like Franken, Minnesota's other Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, has questions.

"If we are committed to ensuring that Russia's hacking, invasions and blackmail do not go unchecked, we must do everything in our power to uncover the full extent of Russia's interference political system," Klobuchar said in a Senate speech. "We must hold our government's highest officials accountable when they mislead the American people."

Dayton: No more cancer

First, Gov. Mark Dayton's office said his cancerous prostate was removed successfully, then Dayton said on Facebook that no other cancer was found elsewhere in his body.

"Once again I am reminded of how fortunate I am to live in a state proximate to the Mayo Clinic and its fantastic doctors and nurses, and to have insurance that covers its treatments," he wrote.

A Dayton spokesman said he carries the same insurance as other state employees.

Emotional testimony on abortion bill

Rep. Mary Franson turned to a personal story as she tried to convince fellow lawmakers to support her bill limiting abortion funding.

The Alexandria Republican told of when she was 20, married and suspected she was pregnant. She and a friend went to a Duluth Target store, bought a pregnancy kit and went into a store restroom, where she discovered she was expecting.

"What am I going to do?" she asked herself.

It worked out, she said.

"I finished college, but it was tough," Franson said. "What pulled me through that was the hope that I was given by my grandparents, my friends ... and, of course, the willpower to prove people wrong who had been against me my whole entire life."

Franson said that when she discovered she was pregnant, "I took responsibility."

"She will be 19 in May," she said of the daughter who came from that pregnancy.

Her bill passed a committee vote 14-8. Funding abortions long has been a legislative issue, as well as one that often lands in court.

Time to get serious

It is time for lawmakers to make lots of decisions.

So far this year, representatives have introduced 2,065 bills and senators 1,861. Only a tiny fraction are going anywhere, and which the lucky ones are will be determined in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, March 10 is the legislative session's first deadline. That is when policy bills must pass out of their first chamber. They must pass out of the second chamber a week later.

Most major spending bills must pass out of a committee by March 31, although there are exceptions.

Deadlines are early this year because legislative leaders want more of the work done in open committee meetings with House and Senate negotiators, instead of the traditional closed-door meetings among the governor and only a few lawmakers.

The session must end May 22.

Other happenings

• A House committee has advanced legislation to shed more light on how the Minnesota Department of Transportation decides what highways get paved and why other projects are planned. The bill adds criteria the department would have to consider before scheduling projects.

• Rescheduling the Minnesota primary election for June, from the current August date, is making its way through legislative committees. Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, said a June primary would be good because many Minnesotans would have not started their summer vacations and other activities.

• Rural broadband development would get $35 million under a bill a Senate committee approved. "By investing in infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas, we're committed to advancing rural economic opportunities," Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said.

• School students are being asked to enter an essay contest celebrating the Minnesota Capitol building, which will be in the spotlight of a grand re-opening Aug. 11-13 after a $310 million renovation. Information is at

•" target="_blank">mn.gov/admin/capitol-restoration/grand-opening.

Home care workers voted to ratify a new contract with 93 percent support. It provides a $2 per hour wage increase and new training programs.

A Forum News Service reporter in St. Paul, Davis has covered Minnesota government and politics since 1998. Read his blog at capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

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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