With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

Posts about Minnesota state senators

House rules panel OKs plans for $77 million Senate office building

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: April 4, 2014 - 3:22 PM

A panel of House lawmakers has approved a controversial plan to build a new, $77 million office building for state senators next to the Capitol. 

The House Rules Committee narrowly moved the project forward Friday on a split vote of 14-13, with Republicans and one Democratic lawmaker opposed but the rest of the committee's DFL majority in favor. The House altered plans for the building that were previously approved by the Senate, chopping about $13 million off the price tag by scrapping a parking ramp and some amenities including a fitness center.

The House plan also added to the building's total square footage so that it contains office space for all 67 senators, instead of 44 of them as originally planned. 

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, called the revised plan "the least expensive option and the best long-term option."

The project has been touchy for Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk arguing that it's needed in order to provide space for senators during and after an ongoing renovation of the Capitol building. But Republicans have harshly criticized the project, calling it not necessary, and even DFL Gov. Mark Dayton criticized the original plans as overly lavish and said he thinks it could hurt his party in November. 

The House had moved slowly to give its approval, but the House panel's vote on Friday moves the issue toward resolution and removal of a potential obstacle toward peaceful resolution of an issue that has been dividing Democrats. 

The building plans still must clear several steps before contractors can break ground. The Senate Rules Committee, which Bakk chairs, must sign off on the House's changes. That panel is meeting Monday. After that, a committee overseeing the Capitol renovation project must also give its stamp.

In addition, construction can't proceed until final resolution of a lawsuit trying to block the building that's currently before the state Supreme Court. 

Deal done on Senate office building?

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: April 4, 2014 - 9:50 AM

The Minnesota Senate appears to be one step closer to getting a new office building.

The House Rules committee, which had blocked the controversial building from moving forward, plans to meet on Friday to give the building its approval.

A host of Republicans and some Democrats have raised questions about the $90 million plans to construct a new building to house senators and build some parking places.

Critics questioned the expense and the idea that the new office building would not house all 67 senators.

Gov. Mark Dayton last month accused the DFLers in the Senate of holding a tax cut bill hostage because senators wanted progress on the building. Republican candidates for governor put aside their differences to bash Dayton for approving legislation that allowed the building to move forward last year.

That legislation required both the Senate Rules committee and the House Rules committee to approve the building plans before they could be put into action. The House Rules committee had so far refused to give their approval.

That approval may come on Friday but the construction plans may change.

On Thursday, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the House still believes it is crucial that if the House is to approve the new building that all senators get offices there.

"We believe and we've always said that the new building should house 67 offices for the 67 senators," Murphy said.

One of the scenarios the Department of Administration has presented recently would house all senators in a new building for a slightly cheaper cost than the original plans considered. See that alternative and others here.

If the House committee does approve an alternative plan, it is likely the Senate Rules committee would have to approve it as well, said Amos Briggs, spokesman for the Senate. The Senate committee voted for the original plan early this year.

The House also asked Dayton's administration about alternatives to the building and whether the Senate could lease space elsewhere during the renovation of the Capitol, which will force DFL Senators out of their current offices.

The administration replied back on Thursday, essentially saying that alternatives could be just as expensive or unworkable.

Here's that letter:

Admin Response by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

Updated and corrected

Senate will not meet in Saturday session

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: April 1, 2014 - 1:29 PM

The Minnesota Senate will meet Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but not convene on a rare Saturday session as initially planned, Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Tuesday.

Bakk’s Tuesday floor announcement, likely met with a sigh of relief by staffers, follows initial plans for the body to meet on the weekend to pass its budget measure. They’ll likely do it Monday instead.

The announcement followed a notification from the Senate information office that a Saturday session would occur. That message was rescinded 20 minutes later.

Some of this week’s floor sessions could prove lengthy.

On Thursday, the Senate plans to take up DFL Sen. Scott Dibble’s controversial anti-bullying legislation. The bill has sparked lengthy debate between advocates and lawmakers in opposition who say it goes too far to protect certain classes of children.

On Wednesday afternoon, DFL Sen. Susan Kent, a supporter of the measure, will host a "Twitter townhall," whereby Minnesotans with questions about the bullying bill can join a discussion about it using the hashtag #SafeSchoolsMN. Kent, a supporter of the measure, will start the discussion at 2 p.m.

As medical marijuana remains controversial in Minnesota, the nation's attitude about pot is changing

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: April 1, 2014 - 1:22 PM

While the Minnesota Capitol has been roiled over questions about whether the legalize marijuana for medical uses, the rest of the country has moved on.

According to the Pew Center for People and the Press, a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana completely, driven by strong support from people born after 1981.

Only two states -- Washington and Colorado -- have leglized buying marijuana. Minnesota has not explored full legalization. According to a Star Tribune poll early this year, a slim majority of Minnesotans support legalizing pot's medical use but 63 percent oppose full legalization.

Explore the changing attitudes about pot in Pew's slideshow on the issue below.

Marijuana: Changing Attitudes

Proposal: Enough with the special sessions

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: March 31, 2014 - 1:59 PM

A bipartisan cohort of lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton are putting new force behind a move to cut out the need for so many special sessions.

To avoid the need for all 201 legislators to tromp back to the state Capitol to fund disaster relief when floods or other tragedy strikes, the group wants to create a contingency fund that the state could tap to help local communities in trouble. Without that fund in place, governors need to call special sessions to match federal disaster funds.

“When severe weather damages homes and businesses, or a major flood tears through a community, Minnesotans need help as quickly as possible,” Dayton said in a statement. “I urge the Legislature to act during the Unsession to ensure our responses to future disasters are fast, appropriate, and efficient.”

The measure to create the contingency fund is sponsored by Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, and Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. It has bipartisan co-sponsorship in both the House and Senate.

At least five times in the last dozen years, governors have called special sessions to allow the Legislature to approve disaster funds. Those sessions tend to last only one day at a cost between $30,000 and $40,000.

See a Star Tribune interactive graphic of special sessions, as recorded by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, sorted by length below. Click on each year to see the primary purpose for each session.

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