Busy day starts busy session

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The state Legislature went back to work for its first session of 2006 at noon Wednesday.
The Capitol bustled with activity as state senators and representatives arrived and spoke with supporters, detractors, constituents and media broadcasters to deliver a message: It’s time to work.

The formalities were carried out quickly ‘ children from Northfield schools sang “God Bless America,” house members recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and the gavel fell, care of one young visitor.

While much of this session will revolve around state bonding requests, a hodge-podge of statute amendments and potential partisan hot topics are already in committee hands.

One such topic was a bill that would eliminate city “sanctuary laws” designed to prohibit immigrant status inquiry by local law enforcement.

The House Local Government Committee, which discussed the bill, trumped all others as it met for more than four hours Wednesday. The bill eventually passed committee, but not without several heated exchanges between committee Chairman Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, and Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center.

After more than three hours of discussion, patience had visibly worn thin.

“My concern is the first hearing immediately following session is not conducive to getting this committee to work together on this issue,” she said in the meeting.

Olson expressed concern over the efficiency of passing such complicated bills.

“We cannot waste committee time, we can’t spend it not doing anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to meet our objective.”

Olson began the House Local Government Committee meeting reminding representatives to be respectful and not to take anything personally.

Jim Knoblauch, R-St. Cloud, author of the bill, could not be reached before press time.

Most legislators were “glad to know we’re moving and starting,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

“One of my committees actually passed a bill onto the floor,” she said. “I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a productive session.”

Midterm elections this year will play a role in how well legislators work together, Kahn said.

“We do know that part of elections is posturing ‘ but I’m hopeful in a Pollyanna-ish way ‘ that it’s to show that we can work together,” she said.

That was a message several hundred American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members and supporters came to hear in person as they assembled in the Rotunda in support of a bill that would outlaw government shutdowns in the state.

Surrounded by signs reading “I know what you did last summer,” and “public service not for sale,” AFSCME Council 5 President Eliot Seide led cries of “No more government shutdown!”

The rally could be heard from within chambers.

Picketers were few, though about a dozen people held signs in support of passing a bill defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Signs read “Every child needs a mom and dad,” and “defend marriage.”

Several advocates held “let the people vote” signs, in reference to a referendum on the issue.

House members introduced 514 bills Wednesday, most of which will go to committees to be discussed later in the session.

In years past, committees haven’t met on the first day so Wednesday was a little unusual, said Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL- Minneapolis.

“I think people go to work a little quicker today than normal,” he said.

The Senate Higher Education Committee will discuss the first of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and University of Minnesota’s bonding requests at noon March 9 in Room 123 at the Capitol.

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