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Continued: Union showdown takes center stage at Minnesota Capitol

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON and JIM RAGSDALE , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: May 19, 2013 - 12:30 AM

The Senate on Saturday gave final passage to a massive $11 billion health and human services bill that would cut $50 million, but also give nursing home workers a 5 percent pay raise. The bill, which now goes to Dayton, includes extra funding for in-school mental health care and aid to families seeking expensive autism ­therapy for their children.

A K-12 finance bill was expected to get final approval by both houses sometime late Saturday, with more bills expected to pass Sunday, after the union debate was exhausted.

On Friday night, a tax committee patched together final details of the state’s assistance to Mayo ­Clinic’s proposed multibillion-dollar expansion in Rochester. The complex subsidy appeared dead several times over the last few months, only to be resurrected in recent days.

When the committee gave its unanimous endorsement to the project, a rare wave of applause erupted in a room stuffed with groggy lobbyists, legislative staffers and tax watchers. House Taxes Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, a relentless critic of the earlier funding plan, apologized “for being such a pest” throughout ­negotiations, drawing ­laughter.

GOP Sen. Dave Senjem, a retired manager at Mayo and a lead supporter of the project, gave a long hug to Rep. Kim Norton, a Rochester DFLer who also pushed the plan.

Tears streamed down ­Senjem’s face as he returned to his chair.

Legislators showed the toll of grueling hours and long floor debates by Saturday afternoon when there were flashes of snippiness as clearly doomed proposals dragged out the debate.

“We still have to housebreak you of some of your behavior,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said, scolding freshman Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, after Westrom made a proposal he later withdrew.

Stakes high as time runs out

The high-stakes logistics of these final few days stand as the biggest test yet of the planning and resolve of the new Democratic leaders. With so little time left and so many spending measures to slog through, the session could implode and force legislators into a special session. That would be a political embarrassment at a time of one-party control, and an additional taxpayer expense.

The frantic flurry of bills also crystallized how Republicans, squarely in the minority in both the House and Senate, are seldom able to block any major initiatives. Dayton and DFL legislative leaders negotiated the entire budget on their own.

House Republicans might not be able to block the unionization proposal, but House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said GOP members plan to make sure every one of their arguments are aired through more than 100 amendments to the unionization bill.

Republican opponents call the bill a prime example of liberal DFL “overreach” and a payback to two unions that contributed upward of $2 million to DFL candidates and causes in 2012 election, helping them lock up legislative control.

Supporters say the bill does not require unionization, but merely gives workers the right to vote. Opponents promise to take their battle to court if the bill passes.

Staff writers Jennifer Brooks and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. • 651-925-5044 • 651-925-5042

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