Legislature working at 'frenetic' pace
ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans who want their lawmakers to work quickly this year should be feeling pretty good. But sticklers for a slow, deliberative process might be suffering from heartburn after witnessing the first six weeks of the legislative ses...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans who want their lawmakers to work quickly this year should be feeling pretty good.
But sticklers for a slow, deliberative process might be suffering from heartburn after witnessing the first six weeks of the legislative session.
The 2006 Legislature is moving at such a fast pace lawmakers say they don't have time to thoroughly study some issues before voting. Crafting laws at breakneck speed means depending on key legislators to fix problems with bills prior to full House or Senate debates, lawmakers admitted.
"It's frenetic," Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said recently of the session pace. One solution is to rely on summaries of some bills before final votes are cast, Moe said.
"There is less review when things are moving fast," added Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.
In recent weeks lawmakers rushed to meet three important committee deadlines and pass several high-profile bills, such as a proposal to further limit government's ability to seize private land. Just hours before the Easter/Passover break began Wednesday, the House approved its plan to pay for state construction and highway projects -- the Legislature's main responsibility this session. The Senate approved its own version.
The Legislature's schedule has been so busy in an unusually short session that committee hearings have started early and run late. With conflicting schedules, lawmakers bounce from one hearing to another. They catch only parts of debate on various issues ranging from conservation funding to sports stadium plans to property tax relief.
The pace is too quick for some.
Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said she wasn't comfortable with how fast some proposals were introduced and voted out of a House committee she belongs to. Bills were approved even though they needed more work, she said.
"That's typically not what happens," Ruud said.
Other lawmakers have been frustrated by another result of the rapid pace: hundreds of bills have been introduced but only a select few get voted on.
"We have fewer days, but yet we have the same number of issues," said Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie. The busy session means lawmakers don't have as much time to meet with constituents who visit the Capitol, she added.
Legislative leaders say they have heard no complaints about the process running too fast.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he would not mind if someone complains that things are moving too fast. "I take that as a compliment."
"We have really pushed these people," Johnson said. "We forgot spring training this year; we went directly to the regular season."
Legislators like an orderly progression, he said, but in a three-month session there is not time for that.
Coming in March 1 instead of a month earlier was good for lawmakers, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said.
"It allowed them to catch up on personal parts of their lives," he said.
Without a budget, which was passed last year, there was less to do this year, Sviggum added, so less time is needed.
When lawmakers return to the Capitol this week, many suspect the pace of activity won't let up for the remaining weeks leading up to May 22, the last day the Legislature can meet in regular session.
There will be less work in committees but more time spent debating bills on the floor of the House and Senate. As bills are passed, conference committees will be busy working out disagreements between the House and Senate.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said the pace has been "hectic" but it hasn't resulted in bad legislation.
"I think that bills are getting due consideration," Ur-dahl said. "It's just that I don't know we'll get them all done."
Urdahl predicated that things will slow down when the Legislature begins the second half of the session.
The first six weeks of the session breezed by, Rep. Aaron Peterson said. The Madison DFL'er predicted that lawmakers will "settle in" for lengthy floor de-bates upon their return to the Capitol.
"That also means there's time to get into politics," Peterson cautioned.
-- Capitol Correspondent Don Davis contributed to this story.