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Walz, legislative leaders pledge smooth end of session

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, left, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Gov. Tim Walz are hopeful that early deadlines brings a smooth ending of the session this spring. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

DFL Gov. Tim Walz and top legislative leaders from both parties pledged Monday to work cooperatively toward a smooth conclusion of the 2019 session in May.

Walz joined DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to announce a set of early deadlines for action on this year’s budget work. They want to avoid a potential state government shutdown and a repeat of the chaos seen at the close of recent sessions.

Hortman said too often end-of-session negotiations turn into a game of high-stakes poker. She said Minnesotans deserve a better process.

“The agreement that we are announcing today puts us on a pathway to have more of the budget conversations in public, and puts us on a pathway to end the session on time with more legislators involved in the bill drafting process,” Hortman said.

The first committee deadline is March 15. By May 1, House and Senate floor votes are planned on major finance bills session followed by the appointment of conference committees. Completed conference committee reports are due May 13. The session is scheduled to adjourn May 20.

Gazelka said meeting the deadlines won’t be easy, given Minnesota’s divided government. But he said making a public commitment now will put extra pressure on leaders to get the work done.

“Setting this out there without a doubt has risk, Gazelka said. “But we think it’s in the benefit of Minnesota to do it.”

House and Senate leaders always set deadlines, and lawmakers are required to finish their work on time. Walz, who puts out his budget recommendation next week, noted that the trio was essentially committing to doing their jobs.

“It says the bar is pretty low, I guess, for starters,” Walz quipped.

Walz said he doesn’t like getting pats of the back for doing things you’re supposed to do, but he said the commitment of Hortman and Gazelka, in what he described as a fractured political environment nationally, is admirable.

“Our hope is this becomes the norm, and this is the expectation, but it hasn’t been for a long time,” he said.