Hortman: House ‘master mute button’ is no more

A "master mute button" installed on the House speaker's rostrum in 2015 is now officially uninstalled.

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman -- now her third day on the job -- confirmed Thursday that the chamber mute button has been disconnected and replaced with a "dummy" button that does nothing. She said she wanted to get rid of the button after her party reclaimed majority in the chamber this fall, but she didn't have the power to remove the function until she was sworn in as speaker this week.

The button, which was installed during a massive renovation of the Capitol in 2015, allows the speaker of the House to mute microphones set up for 133 individual Minnesota legislators. The button did not mute the House speaker. The change was initiated in 2015 by the House clerk and House Republicans, then in the majority. At the time, they said the change brought the House chamber in line with other statehouses across the nation.

But removing the function was a important symbolic action for Hortman, the former minority leader, who said the button was used on her members to arbitrarily cut off debate.

"I have a gavel and a gavel has been good enough since 1858," she said. "And a gavel is good enough for me."

The button can be seen in action in a video of the legislative floor session on May 22, 2016, just an hour before the deadline to adjourn for the year. Democrats were shouting into their microphones about a bill that had been brought up at the last minute with no time for review. But in the audio, their voices kept cutting in an out while former House Speaker Kurt Daudt pushed a button off to the side of the rostrum.

"The first year it that was installed we didn't know it was there and we thought there was an electrical problem when we all of a sudden couldn't hear [former Rep.] Paul Thissen, which is why there was so much outrage when we figured out it was actually mechanically that he was shut down."

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