Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives started talking about themselves Monday afternoon and kept it up until the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
At issue was a new rule, put in place by DFLers who now control the House, that requires all members to submit proposed floor amendments 24 hours before bringing them up during floor debate. The seemingly simple idea touched off the 2013 session's first protracted floor debate.
For ruling DFL House members, the rule is a move toward transparency and openness. For the minority Republicans, it is a devious power play designed to stifle the minority.
For anyone watching early morning debate (and few probably were), the inside-baseball fight displayed exactly the type of rancor both sides pledged to avoid when this year's legislative session opened.
"No one is being limited in their debate. That's a false accusation," said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "We met with the Republicans more than anyone has met on rules. ... There was a lot of work that went into this up-front, including with the Republicans. It was their choice to misinterpret what the rules were doing."
Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, shot right back. "I have made the commitment numerous times, as has Speaker Thissen, that we want to work together. And apparently, the difference is, I meant it," he said.
DFLers said the pre-filing rule simply will allow everyone to make sure their proposals are well-researched before they pop up on the floor. Further, if amendments, which often come at a feverish pace during contentious floor fights, are aired out in advance, everyone will know what they'll face before they step into the House chamber, Democrats say.
Republicans, who call the new system a "gag rule," said the new deadline will restrict debate and inordinately harm whoever is in the minority.
For hour after hour Monday night and early Tuesday, GOP members argued that the rule smacks of tyranny, shenanigans and mistrust. "The only thing that the minority can do is talk," Rep. Greg Davids, the House's most senior Republican, said afterward.
During the debate, Davids even suggested to colleagues that Democrats might find passing a borrowing bill for capital projects particularly tough this year. Borrowing bills require a supermajority, so DFLers cannot pass one alone.
After a night's sleep, Davids said his suggestion had not been a threat and that moods at the Capitol are "very fluid." He said he would not guarantee that a bonding bill would go nowhere, but added that in the wake of the rules debate, if he had to vote now on a borrowing bill, he'd vote no. That would leave the fate of potentially $500 million worth of statewide building projects uncertain.
If the borrowing bill fails, it might be the first time that most folks outside the Capitol know about the impact of the pre-filing rule.
Rep. Ron Kresha, a freshman Republican from Little Falls, said his constituents probably didn't tune in for the spat. For him, there was an upside: He said he was honored to participate in the process and, now that it's over, "You put a notch in the belt and say, 'Hey, I had my first 11-hour session.'"