Senate DFLers removed two controversial policy provisions from spending bills for agriculture and the environment in a surprise move derided by their Republican colleagues, but ultimately managed to muster the votes necessary to pass the spending plan.

The DFL-led Senate failed early Friday afternoon to pass a budget bill for environmental protection, falling one vote short of the 34 necessary to pass the spending plan. 

After an evening recess, DFL senator reconvened and offered an amendment that stripped the bill of policy changes that would abolish the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board and exempt mining sulfide waste from solid-waste rules. The final vote tally was 40-to-26, with one Republican, Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, siding with DFLers.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, voted against the amended bill. Bakk and Tomassoni also opposed the amendment offered by their caucus.

Bakk signed an agreement with Gov. Mark Dayton and three other legislative leaders that said they would not support amendments to the final budget bills. Dayton said this was necessary to ensure the special session would last only a day and avert a partial government shutdown. 

Many members of his caucus, however, were unhappy with the policy changes and banded together late Friday to undo the pending policy changes.

Bakk defended the move saying: "I don't believe it violates the agreement. The agreement says leaders will oppose amendments, and I voted against the amendments, but I voted for the amended bill and I think the governor expects me to vote for the bills."

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, criticized Bakk and DFLers for the last-minute maneuvering. 

"I think is evidence of the inability of the DFL to provide the leadership that they are supposedly in position to do," Hann said after the amended bill passed.

Earlier Friday, some Republicans joined their DFL counterparts in debate on the original measure. 

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said she was passionate about environmental conservation and was struggling with deciding whether to support the bill, saying "I am still tortured on this." 

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, was among the most vocal DFLers who spoke against the original budget bill, and singled out the elimination of a citizen's board that has expansive authority in approving development with environmental impact in the state. That board has existed for decades, and Marty said it would be impossible to get it back. "It's not going to happen," he said.

The bill now heads to the GOP-led House where its fate is unclear.

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