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Special legislative session possible for walleye crisis

Gov. Mark Dayton indicated Tuesday there’s a strong possibility he will call a special legislative session next month to help Mille Lacs resorts and other area businesses that could face tough times if the walleye season is cut short, as seems likely.

Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr told the Star Tribune recently that Lake Mille Lacs’ walleye sport-fishing harvest quota likely would be exceeded by the end of July, forcing the agency’s hand. The quota is set as part of a Mille Lacs comanagement agreement with eight Chippewa bands.

Dayton spokesman Linden Zakula released a statement saying the governor had spoken to both House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and that they were receptive to the idea of a special session to pass a relief package in the event the season has to be canceled.

A special session would end a quiet summer period in Minnesota legislative politics and would be the second time since June legislators would have to meet in special session in the cramped quarters of the State Office Building, as the State Capitol is closed for renovation. Although a legislative deal would likely be agreed to beforehand, a special session would inevitably involve some politicking and grandstanding over unrelated issues.

Dayton and his staff have been working on a relief package to include zero interest loans, property tax abatements and extra tourism promotion and advertising for the region, Zakula said.

Mille Lacs is key to the state’s $2 billion fishing industry. Fishing for northern pike, muskie, bass and other game fish can continue on the lake even if walleye fishing ends, the DNR said, though those fish draw less interest from anglers.

Dayton, Daudt and Bakk informally agreed on creation of a working group that would craft a proposal for legislative approval during an August special session.

An August special session would also come on the heels of state officials, including Dayton and legislative leaders, appearing at an August hearing before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank to discuss the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which the judge ruled unconstitutional in June. In his ruling, he said the indefinite detention of the sex offenders after their prison stay violates their constitutional rights. The judge’s order called for the hearing to “fashion suitable remedies” that may require legislative action. Dayton has steadfastly defended the program and balked at legislative action.

Sen. Tom Bakk, Gov. Mark Dayton speaking today for first time in weeks

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he had a call scheduled today with Gov. Mark Dayton, their first direct communication since the Legislature finished business June 13.

The icy relations between the two DFL veterans dominated the legislative session, beginning with a public feud over Dayton's decision to raise salaries of some of his commissioner by as much as $35,000, and accusations by Dayton that Bakk "stabbed me in the back."

The two were scheduled to discuss the storms that destroyed property in the Brainerd lakes region. If there's not enough money in state disaster response funds to help the region, Dayton may need to call a special legislative session to address the shortfall. 

The end of the session was rocky for Bakk, with many metro area DFL members protesting about an environment bill they thought was too kind to polluters and legislative process they said lacked transparency. Nevertheless, Bakk held on to his leadership post. 

Bakk said he had done some outreach to heal rifts in the caucus.

He said he has already talked to Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, about moving quickly on bills to address transportation and provide tax cuts next year. 

Bakk was summoned to see U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank next month with Dayton and Daudt to discuss the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which Frank ruled unconstitutional because it confines offenders indefinitely without access to courts and other civil liberties. 

Bakk said he has asked the judge to include other Senators, including Republicans. "To fix this there has to be a bipartisan proposal," he said. The issue is potentially politically explosive because it could entail releasing sex offenders, depending on future judicial rulings. 

Dayton has expressed disagreement with the ruling and said the the program as it exists now is constitutional. 


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