Time running out in session; still no deal

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With the public, the media and even many legislators left to wonder whether negotiators were making progress on a budget agreement in private meetings, Republican lawmakers began work Saturday on a new round of budget bills to send to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who has not committed to signing them into law.

As Saturday morning stretched into Saturday night the Monday midnight deadline to adjourn loomed larger, and the prospect of a special session became more likely if lawmakers cannot finish their work.

GOP leaders decided to move forward with their second batch of bills after negotiations with the governor failed to produce an agreement. Dayton vetoed their first batch.

The new bills still have modified versions of many of the contentious policy provisions that were in the bills Dayton vetoed and that he says are still unacceptable.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he and key committee chairs have been talking to the governor about those provisions.

“We’re trying to find bills that in the end the governor will sign, but in the end, we also get some of the policy reforms we want,” Gazelka said. “Some of them we’ll get. Some of them we’re not going to get.”

But the prospects for a special session seemed to be growing by the minute as details of those bills emerged.

For example, Republicans are still pushing for changes to the state law requiring buffer strips around farm fields. Dayton has repeatedly said he won’t accept changes or delays.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, the chair of the House environment and natural resources committee, said the latest version should be “pretty palatable” to the governor.

“We just want to try to make some tweaks to it and make it work a little better and help the governor achieve his goal,” Fabian said.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said he believes Republicans are trying get the governor to accept buffer changes in exchange for DNR fee increases.

“I think it’s a strategy for being here after May 22,” Hansen said. “If that’s the proposal, I think it gets vetoed.”

The public safety/judiciary bill still has language related to the Appleton prison, although it’s been watered down. The rulemaking provision related to drivers’ licenses for unauthorized immigrants is also in the bill. Dayton cited his objection to both provisions in his earlier veto.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, raised concerns about some of the energy policy provisions in the jobs/commerce/energy bill.

“This bill is certainly aimed for another veto,” Marty said.

One of the Republican committee chairs working on that bill offered a more optimistic assessment. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the bill was nearly ready to finalize.

“We’re on the pathway to having a good bill become law,” Garofalo said.

In another development that appeared to further complicate an already difficult path to meet the adjournment deadline, Senate Republicans found themselves down a member.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, whose father is gravely ill, was again called away, according to a Senate GOP spokeswoman. Republicans have a narrow 34-33 majority in the Senate.