Lawmakers rolled into the Capitol today for what's expected to be their last long haul of the 2006 session. They're aiming to wrap it up before church on Sunday.
With votes planned on a $1 billion construction projects package, Twins and Gophers stadiums and tax and spending bills, some legislators were still wheeling and dealing on the sidelines to try to get their projects included. Others were preparing retirement speeches.
The Minnesota Senate convened shortly after 11 a.m. and unanimously approved legislation designed to help consumers prevent identity theft. The bill which would let consumers freeze their credit reports to prevent tampering now goes to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for a signature. The Senate then recessed until 3 p.m.
The session is on track for a smooth finish after top legislators and the GOP governor negotiated a framework for tax relief and spending earlier in the week. The Minnesota Supreme Court saved them from a nasty budget headache when it let a disputed cigarette fee stand.
One sign of the lighter mood: The lights were turned down momentarily in the House as representatives took up a bill restricting strip clubs, and a lawmaker reached over to put some cash in the pocket of Rep. Dean Urdahl, the bill's sponsor.
The House passed the bill 129-1. It would ban strip clubs within a half mile of a church of school, but local governments would still have the power to allow them.
The construction project deal came late Friday after 10 hours of negotiations in Pawlenty's office, resolving the main task of this year's non-budget session. It includes money to expand the Faribault state prison and event centers in Bemidji and Marshall, but not in Duluth.
But a vote on the final bonding bill might have to wait until early Sunday as revisors scramble to process the thick document.
Tax negotiators finished their work on a bill that would help married couples and middle-income taxpayers ensnared by a quirk known as the alternative minimum tax. The bill, however, didn't contain property tax relief sought by both houses and Pawlenty; the lead negotiators said there wasn't enough money.
The tax provisions would cut an average of $74 off the taxes of 419,300 married couples, while more than 37,000 middle-income taxpayers would save hundreds of dollars by avoiding the alternative minimum tax.
Businesses would also get a small break they wouldn't have to make early sales tax payments in June to help the state balance its budget, a practice that's been in effect for more than 20 years.
House Taxes Committee Chairman Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, said he was disappointed the conference committee didn't adopt his proposal for property tax rebate checks for homeowners.
"That fell by the wayside because spending always takes precedence over reducing taxes in the state of Minnesota," Krinkie said.
Earlier, critics of a Minnesota Twins stadium bill that's on course for final passage staged a protest outside the Governor's Residence, demanding that he veto the $522 million ballpark proposal. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has pledged his support if the Legislature send the bill to him.
The stadium would be paid for mostly with an increased Hennepin County sales tax. No voter referendum will be held.
Auto mechanic Dave Bicking says opponents won't forget at the ballot box in November and hopes to knock supporters out of office.
Other critics say they're exploring legal options for blocking the stadium.
Some held signs warning supportive lawmakers that their votes would haunt them in November's elections. "Your Next Office Unemployment," read one.