Capitol Chatter: Minnesota Senate changes with the times

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators took an abrupt about-face moments after the legislative session ended with shouting and confusion. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk did not want his colleagues to leave, even though the midnight hour had passed. "It'...

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators took an abrupt about-face moments after the legislative session ended with shouting and confusion.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk did not want his colleagues to leave, even though the midnight hour had passed.

"It's a pretty emotional time," Bakk said before delivering quiet recitation that centered on the Senate preparing to meet away from the Capitol for the first time since it opened more than a century ago.

"You will be the very last senators to have an office in the Capitol," the subdued Bakk said, then said that their desks would be moved across the street to a new office building in time to meet there when lawmakers return for their 2016 regular session.

The Senate will meet in a room that after 2016 will be a large committee room. Senators for the first time in years also all will have offices in the same building.


"The state Senate no longer is going to be officed in the Capitol," Bakk lamented.

It is part of progress.

"For over 4 decades, this Legislature and the Senate and the House have been trying to figure out how we can renovate this Capitol for the public," Bakk said. "It was never built for the public."

In the early days of the Capitol, the public was not welcome in committee and other meetings. The building was a legislator-only club, with staff members allowed in out of necessity.

Fewer than 50 years ago that began to change. Legislative meetings were deemed public and the public began to crowd into the Capitol.

A three-year, $300 million renovation the Capitol is undergoing will result in much of the space senators vacate becoming public areas. There will be a library, meetings rooms and exhibition areas.

Some Senate meeting rooms are to remain, although the new building will have some, too.

"In 2017, they are going to move our desks back here," Bakk said, looking around the ornate Senate chamber. "The carpet is going to be new, but it is going to be the same."


Minutes after the 2015 legislative session adjourned, crews began emptying the House chamber, with the Senate coming soon.

The Capitol is closed to everyone but construction workers and people using the tunnel system beneath the building.

The House plans to uses its chamber during the three-month legislative session next year, while senators meet across the street. Work continues on finding a place for a special session this year.

The state Constitution requires the Legislature to meet in St. Paul, but not necessarily in the Capitol.


Trafficking law passes

A sex trafficking provision pushed by two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation is headed to President Barack Obama's desk and his signature.


The measure makes it clear that minors sold for sex must be treated as victims, not suspects in the crime.

It is modeled after a Minnesota law and was shepherded by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and is part of a broader human trafficking bill.

The House passed the bill in the past week, the Senate earlier.

“Critical help for victims of sex trafficking is now one step closer to being etched into law,” Paulsen said. “The cumulative action taken by Congress ... stands as a landmark in the fight against this awful crime."

“In Minnesota, we’ve already recognized that kids sold for sex need to be treated as the victims they are, not locked up in jail," Klobuchar said. "By encouraging other states to adopt Minnesota’s Safe Harbor model and giving prosecutors the tools they need to address this crime, this law will tackle sex trafficking head-on while ensuring that victims receive the support they need and deserve.”


Strange ending


The shouting and confusion that ended the legislative session is normal, but there were some unusual things at the end.

Senators, not usually known as stand-up comedians, provided one.

Earlier in the session, senators decided to retain a rule that requires them to look at the Senate president, and no one else, while talking on the floor. It received national ridicule.

Near the end of the session, the president, Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, had gone down from her rostrum to discuss a bill like any other senator when Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove rose.

Limmer complained that she was not watching the fill-in president.

"I confess my eyes had wandered," Pappas responded, resulting in colleagues filling the chamber with laughter.

Then there was Gov. Mark Dayton, talking about reporters' news sources, when he wrapped up: "or wherever you get information, twix."

A reporter corrected him: "Twitter."



Winkler leaves

A liberal lawmaker who grew up in rural Minnesota is leaving the Legislature to accompany his wife to her new job in Belgium.

It is not going to be home for the rest of their lives, Winkler said, and he could consider public office when he returns.

"For Jenny, this is an incredible professional opportunity to advance her talent and dedication into a leadership role in a global hotel company with Minnesota roots..." he said. "And I will continue my current role with Biothera, a Minnesota company with international operations, splitting time between Minnesota and Belgium."

Winkler lives in Golden Valley, in the northwestern Twin Cities suburbs. He grew up in Bemidji.

“The Legislature will miss Ryan’s wit and intelligence, but most of all we will miss his impatience with injustice," House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said.



It's that time

Sen. Rod Skoe heads the Senate Taxes Committee and is involved in a lot of issues, but he had just one thing on his mind a half hour after the Legislature adjourned this year.

"I'm going to go home and farm," the Clearbrook Democrat said.

Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

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