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Legislative Session Begins
by Laura McCallum
February 1, 2000
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Minnesota lawmakers returned to the Capitol for what's expected to be a hectic session dominated by tax cuts, borrowing for capital improvements, transportation funding and several major policy initiatives. Both Republicans and Democrats have ambitious agendas for a short non-budget session, partly because the state is awash in cash, and partly because all 201 legislative seats are at stake this election year.

AFTER BOTH CHAMBERS called members to their seats at noon, DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe cautioned his colleagues that the legislature won't be able to tackle all of the issues before it.
Moe: I want to remind all of us that we're going to be on kind of a sprint basis here, we're going to be doing an awful lot of work in a relatively short period of time, and so keep that in mind as we deal with one another and remind ourselves to be civil with one another as we go through all of this.
The Senate adjourned after 20 minutes of routine business, while the House started out in a more boisterous fashion.

The chamber's only independent legislator livened up what could have been a mundane opening session. Doug Reuter of Owatonna, who left the Republican caucus after last session because it wasn't conservative enough, asked the House to approve scrapping results of a written test given to Minnesota tenth graders last week.

Roll Call
See how legislators voted on the proposal to rescind a tenth-grade writing test.
The test contained a question some lawmakers found too intrusive and negative, asking students to talk about one thing they'd like to change about themselves. Reuter said the House had to act immediately, because the Department of Children, Families and Learning would soon send the tests to Iowa for evaluation.
Reuter: And once they start scoring them, the state of Minnesota will incur tremendous expense. How much that is, I have not been able to get an answer yet, but we've been told that it could cost as much as $800,000 to re-issue this test.
Education Commissioner Christine Jax has said students who want to re-take the test will be allowed to do so. Many of Reuter's former Republican caucus members questioned the need to bypass a public hearing in the education committee, including a visibly-angry Dennis Ozment of Rosemount.
Ozment: To go around the process like this is irresponsible. How are we supposed to send over legislation for the Senate to react to, if we haven't a clue as to what we're even supposed to have in the bill? The answers we have right now from the author says he's based his opinions and his understandings on rumors, hearsay; that's not how we establish policy in this state.
Reuter's proposal failed 63-70, but education committee chair Harry Mares says he will hear the bill next week.

Reuter also failed in his attempt to change the rules on the House prayer, which currently call for prayers to be non-denominational. If the first day's action is any indication, many lawmakers will try to avoid proposals on hot-button socially-conservative issues. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says his caucus will push one abortion restriction, the so-called Women's Right to Know, which requires women to receive information about abortion 24 hours before the procedure. But he says he won't try to pass more contentious restrictions, such as a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions.
Sviggum: I think we should focus on what's doable. You know, focus on the one bill, in this case, the Women's Right to Know, that you should be able to get passed through the Senate, that the governor has stated at least at one time that he would sign - it seems to be do-able as opposed to, you know, maybe pushing too many issues, which you might do for a political reason one way or the other, but will probably not make it through the final product, or final end result.
Legislative leaders from both parties are talking about "balance", a certain campaign theme for the 2000 elections, and partisan attacks emerged even on the first day. DFL Senate Tax Committee Chair Doug Johnson of Tower criticized House Republicans' proposal to use some of the projected $1.6 billion budget surplus for further income tax cuts.
Johnson: Well, I think the House Republicans are doing a good job of trying to work themselves back in the minority. First of all, they've developed a tax and spending plan that costs a lot more than is available in the bank. If the Governor and the Senate Democrats went along with it, in fact, we would be having deficits in the future.
The debate over how to spend all the extra cash is just beginning. Senate Republicans released their proposal to raise the personal and dependent exemption to $5,000 at a cost of $530 million a year. One senator predicted the next budget forecast out at the end of February will show another surplus approaching a billion dollars, which translates into more money for lawmakers to play with this session.