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Capitol Chatter: GOP offered bonding deal before bullying, wage votes

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Republicans passionately fought an anti-bullying bill that the Democrat-controlled House passed in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after a nearly 12-hour debate.

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GOP representatives said the proposal to require school districts to implement strong bullying policies, and the state stepping in if they don’t, is too heavy handed.

A day later, Republicans waged a shorter and somewhat less passionate debate against raising the minimum wage. They complained that the bill would hurt businesses.

The bullying issue is this year’s gay marriage battle. (In fact, the pro-gay group OutFront Minnesota was a key supporter of both and some of the discussion about bullying featured gay students.) Both issues are strongly opposed by right-wing Republicans.

Both issues passed on a wave of Democratic support.

It is little known, but Republicans felt so strongly about bullying and minimum wage bills that they were willing to compromise on their long-held belief that public works spending should be limited.

GOP leaders approached those in charge of the Legislature with an offer: Make bullying and minimum wage bills more moderate and Republicans would be willing to vote for bigger public works bills.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said in answer to Forum News Service questions that House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, approached them separately with the idea of lowering the proposed $9.50 an hour minimum wage in exchange for help passing a bigger public works bill.

Bakk said that Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, asked about a bullying deal.

“Nothing came of those talks,” Hann said.

Public works spending, mostly funded by the state selling bonds, is about the only leverage Republicans have in a state government run by Democrats.

The state Constitution requires a super majority to pass a bonding bill, which requires more votes than Democrats alone can offer.

Democrats are saying they want to spend more than the $850 million bonding bill legislative leaders have agreed to pass.

“We are not just going to break the agreement because they want us to,” Hann said.

“If the Democrats want more bonding, they are going to need our votes.”

Is legislator immunity needed?

Minnesota legislators have listened to Concordia University St. Paul students and are making progress to changing a legal provision that led to issuing lawmakers what is known as a “get out of jail free” card.

But it may not be needed.

For years, many people have understood that a constitutional provision that prohibits legislators from being arrested during the legislative session saves them from drunken driving charges. Concordia students this year, and in the past, have offered bills to overturn the avoid-jail pass, and strongly lobbied for their proposal.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision more than 100 years ago apparently means that lawmakers are not immune. Still, the Concordia students’ bill has plenty of support.

“I think by passing this bill, clarifying what the law is, we resolve that problem for ourselves and we resolve the confusion with the public,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said.

Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, also referred to that old court ruling: “Legislators can and should be arrested if they drive drunk. This is current law, and it is rightly enforced by the authorities.”

Latz said the provision, written into both federal and state constitutions, “applies only in cases of civil arrest and not to criminal conduct.” The provision apparently was written to prevent outside influence on lawmakers.

The students’ bill passed the House 115-13 and is in the Senate.

Rural action sought

Only the House is listening to the needs of rural Minnesota, according to a key group focused on issues outside of the Twin Cities.

“So far this session the Minnesota House has been the one arm of state government to lead with a rural agenda,” said Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

The House has passed provisions such as one that expands broadband Internet around the state, as well as creating a job-training program and giving greater Minnesota residents tax breaks.

While the governor did not recommend funding broadband expansion, although he says he supports fast border-to-border Internet coverage, in recent days he has said he is willing to see money go there.

“I am willing to agree to (new broadband) funding this year,” Dayton told reporters.

“The amount really needs to be in the context of the overall budget.”

Dayton has complained that broadband supporters have not presented a plan specific enough to get his support.

“We are looking for more than a willingness to agree,” Wilson said.

“We expect leadership from the governor on broadband and other issues that are important to greater Minnesota.”

Taxpayers fund abortions

A new report indicating that a third of all abortions are funded by the state bothers Minnesota’s largest anti-abortion group

“The state’s abortion facilities take a steady stream of taxpayer revenue by targeting economically vulnerable women,” Executive Director Scott Fischbach of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said.

“It is time to end this exploitation of poor women and their unborn children.”

A state report said that more than 3,500 abortions were paid by the state in 2012. Fischbach’s group said that after 17 years of government-funded abortions, the state has paid $20.7 million for more than 65,000 procedures.

Dayton delays speech

Gov. Mark Dayton has delayed his State of the State speech to April 30.

He did not deliver the annual speech earlier in the year, as is tradition, because he was recovering from hip surgery. He had planned it for April 23, but decided to wait another week, a spokesman said, to give him more time to prepare.

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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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