The 134 members of the Minnesota House gathered with friends, family members and other guests for the start the 2007 Legislative session. Minnesota's new Secretary of State Mark Ritchie gaveled the session to order.
The session opens with 35 representatives beginning their first term in office. The new faces brought about a major change in power at the Capitol. Last year Republicans had a two-seat majority in the House. Now, Democrats are in control with an 85-to-49 advantage.
The shift in power brought a new Speaker of the House. Rep. Margaret Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, became the second woman to hold the position.
"As we enter into the debate of how we make our great schools even better, and find ways to provide more health care access at a more affordable cost to Minnesotans, and to attack those rising property taxes, and to lead Minnesota to a new renewable energy future, we can begin to sense that thaw of the cold, rigid partisanship of the past," she told lawmakers.
Partisanship hasn't melted yet at the Capitol, and one organizational move met some first-day resistance from the new minority.
Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, the new House minority leader, spoke out against the new committee structure. Seifert says the DFL has simply created too many committees.
"I mean you have a 33-percent increase in committees. We were wondering as Republicans: is this a harbinger of things to come in terms of the growth of government?" Seifert asked.
Seifert has several questions and concerns about the DFL agenda, but he says that doesn't mean he won't be civil in the weeks ahead.
The DFL Senate also set a tone of civility with its opening-day activities. There are 18 new senators. The DFL majority has grown to 44-to-23. Still, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, the new Senate majority leader, picked a veteran Republican for a key leadership post.
Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, will serve as president pro tem during the 2007 session. He'll preside over some floor debates and fill in periodically for the DFL president of the Senate, Jim Metzen.
Pogemiller, who has a history as one of the Senate's fiercest partisans, says he wants a collaborative, bipartisan approach in the Senate.
"The Senate has historically has been a less partisan, more collaborative body," Pogemiller said. "And so it just makes sense to have the two designated presiding officers one from the majority and one from the minority. And I think Sen. Frederickson uniquely has the respect of every member of the Senate."
Senate Democrats are promising a fast start on their priority issues. They'll introduce six bills this week that match many of the priorities they share with the DFL leaders in the House.
But the Senate is considering increases in the state sales tax and gas tax, and that concerns Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The Republican governor stressed a cooperative theme in his inaugural address this week, but on the opening day of the Legislature, he offered a warning to DFL lawmakers.
"They've got ideas about gas tax increases, tab tax increases, wheelage tax increases, I think various other tax increases. I vetoed that bill last year. I'm not going to sign it this year. If they want to have that confrontation right up front, that's what they'll get but I'm hoping they look at some alternatives, some of which we'll be sharing, some of which they may have. Or maybe they have the votes to override me but that's one area where we'll have some disagreement," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty will unveil his two-year state budget proposal later this month. After battling red ink most of his first term, the governor is now working with a projected $2 billion surplus for the biennium. The Legislature is required to finish its budget work by May 21.