If only for 90 minutes — in a world of make-believe — DFL lawmakers called the shots Monday on a panel of the Republican-led Minnesota Senate.
Scheduled the morning of April Fools' Day, a pretend Senate "Committee on Banned Bills" heard about a half-dozen measures denied hearings in the Republican-controlled chamber, all to make a point about their thwarted agenda in a divided Legislature on issues such as gun control, paid family leave and the Equal Rights Amendment.
Made up entirely of Democrats, the panel eschewed pushback questions in favor of statements of support. Instead of rancorous debate, there was unanimous approval.
Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, D-Eden Prairie, took a moment to thank "Committee Chair" Sen. Matt Little, D-Lakeville, "for creating the illusion in my head of what it feels like to be in the majority."
"I know this is fake; I wish it wasn't," Little said. "But the real impact that these bills would have to possibly change lives is what we are here to talk about. These are bipartisan issues with broad support that somehow can't get hearings, and the reason why is pretty obvious. The only reason why you don't want to have open debate on issues with broad support is because you know your position is wrong. So hear the bills."
Monday's lightning round of lost legislative causes saw 15 minutes reserved for each Democratic proposal, beginning with a sought-after hearing on a bill to expand gun background checks. Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, brought in Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and the state's Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington to testify in favor of the measure, which would extend background checks to private sales online and at gun shows.
That bill, and legislation allowing for the removal of firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others, has been heard in the state House, where Democrats who control that chamber have made it a top priority.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, an opponent of new gun control laws, has said he is open to hearing gun legislation in the Senate — but only on the condition that the House pass it first.
Monday's faux hearing caught Gazelka's attention.
"I'm hearing today from Democrats their gun bills have 'huge public support and are common sense ideas,' " Gazelka tweeted as Latz testified. "Then why won't the House give them an up-or-down vote on the floor? If they do, we'll give gun bills a committee hearing."
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, has signaled that the House will fold the gun bills into a broader public safety package rather than vote on them separately, which would require lengthy House floor debates.
On Monday, the Democratic senators also took up paid family leave, a measure that was also being heard simultaneously in a real state House committee. Senate Republicans say the program is too costly.
The DFL senators also lent an audience to measures that would repeal the expiration of the state's 2 percent health care provider tax, restore voting rights to felons who are not imprisoned, increase the number of minority teachers in the state, and alter the state's constitution to say people have equal rights regardless of gender.
The Senate's DFL caucus streamed footage of the meeting on Facebook.
Although it was clear that the committee could not itself advance its priorities, DFLers on Monday sought to underscore that it was no mere exercise in mock government.
"I very much hope … that the public is aware of the possibility and the opportunity that is before you when you have a majority that believe in these issues and is willing to work on this," said Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, D-Minneapolis. "We need your support to make this possible."