The 108-year-old State Capitol was one of Minnesota’s first public buildings to be illuminated entirely with electric lights. I’ve always thought that was done to showcase this state’s embrace of technological progress. But maybe the legislators who approved that lighting design aimed to make late-night lawmaking easier on the eyes.
That thought occurred to me Sunday afternoon as I watched bleary-eyed House members struggle with the after-effects of the all-nighter they pulled Saturday night and early Sunday, debating a highly contentious child care unionization bill.
It was only the second time all year that the House remained in session after midnight. The first episode was occasioned by the bill to create a state-run health care exchange. That bill and Sunday morning's had in common fierce partisan opposition, of the sort that inspires a long list of amendments intended to foil the bill's intent.
But late-night lawmaking is a time-honored tradition at the Capitol, whether the place is in one party's hands or two. In situations involving group dynamics, negotiations and a deadline, somebody inevitably seeks to use the clock as an ally -- or a weapon -- with which to get his or her way.
The child care/personal care attendants' unionization bill provoked a Senate all-nighter last Wednesday-Thursday. Prolonging debate with a plethora of amendments seemed to be the GOP minority's tool. Later Thursday, Senate Republican leaders accused the DFL majority of mismanaging the flow of legislation. They denied that they had anything to do with theproblem. "We are not filibustering. We're trying to do our elected job," said Senate GOP leader David Hann.
The lawmaking pace has picked up considerably since then. By Sunday afternoon, worries had dissolved that the year's must-do budget business would not be done by 12 a.m. Tuesday, when the constitutionally permissible time for the regular session runs out. But this year -- like most session years since 1905 -- the session will end with a hefty light bill. At least it isn't "midnight oil."