A 17-hour debate in the Minnesota Senate over the unionization of child care providers and personal care assistants could be just a taste of things to come in the closing days of the legislative session.
Minority Republicans offered amendment after amendment to try to block the bill, but it ultimately passed early Wednesday morning by a vote of 35 to 32. After the vote, the top Democrat in the Senate worried that Republicans might use similar tactics to slow major budget bills.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were visibly fatigued following their marathon session. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was also sounding frustrated. Bakk said he was deeply disappointed by what he viewed as the "anti-union" opposition of Republicans.
"I think there's a reason they're in the minority," Bakk said. "I think they've lost touch with most Minnesotans, and they're at some risk of becoming just the party of the wealthy. I have tried to encourage many of them to take a more moderate view that represents a broader groups of Minnesotans than what their voting record represents. But so far we haven't seen that."
Democrats are in charge of the Senate, the House and the governor's office this session. But Bakk still sees the possibility of some tough sledding before Monday's deadline for adjournment.
DFL-sponsored tax and spending bills to balance the budget still need final action in the remaining six days. Bakk said he's concerned that Republicans will also drag out the debate on those bills to try to run out the clock.
"If this doesn't adjourn on time, it will be because they absolutely have decided to throw sand in the gears here, and they are not going to let the majority finish this session on time," Bakk said. "That would be a huge disappointment to the public, and it will be pretty clear where the blame lies if this session doesn't end on time."
Asked about using a slow-down strategy to force a special session, Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie did not deny it. Hann said Republicans have been shut out of budget negotiations, and they plan to take as much time as necessary to discuss the final budget bills.
"Our obligation is to help the public understand what's in these bills," Hann said. "It's not our fault that they have not got their budget bills done. If they run out of time, that's their problem."
Hann also accused majority Democrats of wasting time on same-sex marriage, gun bills and the unionization measure. He said he believes DFL lawmakers had only one reason for pushing the union bill.
"This is clearly campaign payback, pure and simple," Hann said. "There's no other reason why this bill is on the floor."
The unionization bill now goes to the House, and Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown said he expects a similar reaction from GOP lawmakers. Daudt said it represents the ultimate government overreach.
"We certainly don't have a strategy of slowing things down," Daudt said. "But on bills where we know that the Democrats are overreaching and doing things that are out of line with Minnesota values, we will put our foot down and we will do everything we can to stop those from becoming law. And if that means staying here for 20 hours or 22 hours on the House floor, we're going to do it."
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he wants a full and fair debate on the unionization bill. But he thinks that can be done in a few hours. As far as the budget bills, Thissen is expecting them to stay on track, without a deliberate attempt to delay.
"That has happened in the past. I am hopeful that that's not going to be the case and that we're going to able to move through the bills with the appropriate amount of debate," Thissen said. "But not drag things out for the sake of dragging things out. That's not what the people of Minnesota want us to do."
The House is expected to vote Wednesday night on the first finalized budget bill. It's the conference report on jobs and economic development finance. The unionization bill could come up this weekend.