The first few weeks of a legislative session often are sleepy affairs: lots of ceremony, feel-good receptions and meet-and-greets, introductions and informational hearings.
Not this year.
A number of factors combined to create a flurry of early activity: the crisis in the individual health insurance market, which sent premiums skyrocketing and has lawmakers scrambling for ways to help; the urgency behind bringing state tax laws in line with the federal code, so that Minnesotans preparing to file taxes get the same breaks available from the feds; and behind it all, a Legislature under full Republican control with leaders eager to show they are up to the job.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who has been at the Capitol since 2003.
Rosen, who leaves on a two-week trip to Myanmar this week, said the Senate’s rush to pass its health care bill last week was not related to her travel plans. Lawmakers were eager to get it done so that Senate and House negotiators could work out differences for final passage by the end of the month, which is the deadline for Minnesotans to sign up for health insurance.
Still, Rosen’s absence is notable because it shows how thin the GOP’s one-seat majority really is. With just one member gone, the Senate conceivably could come to a halt, with Republicans lacking the numbers to move any legislation opposed by the DFL.
The House is acting quickly on at least two other fronts. Several committees are working on a Real ID bill that would bring the state into compliance with the federal law, without which we will all need a passport to get on an airplane.
Also, the House Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday about legalizing the sale of liquor on Sundays. It’s a long-standing effort, popular with the public but bogged down by Capitol special interests.
(Chairman Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, who also is carrying the health care bill in the House, is getting a major test this session.)
Kelly Eull, a Twin Cities lawyer and politics junkie — a term used with all fondness — is keeping her own amateur whip count on Sunday booze sales. She shows the yea side just shy of the votes needed to pass the House. Other sources say the votes are there.
Big field in DFL race for governor
State Auditor Rebecca Otto got into the DFL race for governor last week. Another big name, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, said he also is considering it.