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What caused the gridlock at the Minnesota Capitol?

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) One word sums up the 2004 legislative session: incomplete. Before this weekend, the closest thing to major legislation sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk was a bill to open a hunting season on mourning doves - something Pawlenty said he plans to sign despite pleadings from his two young daughters.

A handful of bills eked through the Legislature Saturday night and Sunday morning, the most notable of which would enact new science and social studies standards for public schools and tighten drunken driving laws.

But many more - balancing the budget, borrowing for construction projects, toughening sex offender laws, casinos, stadiums and others - were left undone.

"There's a lot of unfinished business in this state," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Lawmakers could have returned to the Capitol for mostly a day of ceremony Monday. But the House and Senate both decided to adjourn Sunday morning, the final day they could pass bills.

"Are we walking out with crowns on our heads? Absolutely not," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar.

When asked if this was the least productive session in his roughly 25 years as a lawmaker, House Speaker Steve Sviggum paused, "That may be true."

"When you look at the overall umbrella of the session, there was disappointment," said Sviggum, R-Kenyon. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, was more blunt: "This is the most inept, horse-managed session that this state has probably seen in the 20 years that I've been watching it."

So, what DID the House and Senate agree on?

They both passed bills Sunday that would lower the drunken driving threshold from 0.10 percent blood alcohol content to 0.08 percent. If Pawlenty signs the measure as expected, it would go into effect in August 2005. The House had been seeking a 2007 enactment date, while the Senate wanted the law to go into effect this year.

Part of the compromise is that people who don't have another conviction within 10 years would have the mark expunged from their records.

"Sometimes, you just say it's time to make a deal," said Rep. Doug Meslow, R-White Bear Lake. "It's time to make a compromise."

Minnesota lawmakers first considered the tougher limit in the 1980s. But the issue took on added importance in 1997 when a federal transportation package provided incentive funding to states that adopted 0.08. Officials estimate the state missed out on $17 million from that pool.

Starting this year, the federal government is withholding road construction dollars from Minnesota in escalating amounts that would add up to $100 million by 2007.

The other major bill that received support from both chambers the final day - the final minutes, actually - was a new set of academic standards.

Several members objected to the rushed process, with most not even having a chance to read the bill before they voted.

"Not one minute of debate was allowed on the floor," said Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater.

The state Education Department and Legislature had been working together to create a replacement for the Profile of Learning graduation rules that were repealed last year.

Math and English requirements were approved earlier. But agreeing on science and especially social studies standards was much tougher.

Standards backed by the Pawlenty administration and the House were laden with places, dates and names students should be expected to know by the end of each grade; the Senate tended to lay out themes to help guide instruction.

In the end, the two sides blended their approaches - loads of content Republicans wanted and plenty of content Democrats had demanded so students can learn from history, said House Education Committee Chairwoman Alice Seagren, R-Bloomington.

"It's a good document," she said.

Of the issues that didn't make the deadline, the one that drew the most interest from the public was a proposal to amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman - an effort to ban gay marriage.

Backers of the measure demonstrated with signs outside the Senate chamber for the final days of session, trying unsuccessfully to persuade senators to join the House and pass the bill.

A pair of lawmakers made a last-ditch attempt to bring the bill to the floor in the session's closing moments, but lost the battle.

"We've been silenced again," said Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview.

Later, Johnson called the move to bring the bill up so late "a political statement."

"There's a proper time and a proper place, but there are rules," he said.

It's unclear if Pawlenty will call a special session to allow lawmakers to finish their work. If he does, it won't be particularly special. It would be the fourth in four years.

The session began in February and never seemed to take shape. In the end, leaders failed to agree on the overall limits of any deal. There was no one sticking point; all the points seemed sticky.

Among the things that kept Senate Democrats and House Republicans apart:

-Personalities. On the day Senate DFLers named Johnson as their leader, Sviggum promptly described the choice of the Lutheran minister as one of confrontation and division. Johnson rarely raised his voice in the session, but he repeatedly promised that Democrats would not cave to GOP demands.

-History. Last year, House Republicans and Pawlenty got their way on virtually every major issue, balancing a huge budget deficit with cuts and fee-hikes that Democrats detested. Sviggum said he was convinced Democrats would rather nothing happen than lose again. Democrats said they were hoping to lessen the cuts this session and determined not to accept any budget fixes that made them worse.

-Budget solutions. The House wanted to erase the $160 million budget deficit in part by expanding gambling. The Senate wanted to get money by eliminating certain tax breaks for companies with infrastructure overseas.

-The end game. Democrats insisted that any session-ending deal be discussed in public, by the Senate's main money committees. That broke with the tradition of having leaders set the framework for any deal and then letting committees write the specifics. Sviggum and Johnson differed on a host of issues, but they never seemed able to get around that one. Johnson said he didn't plan to offer "a two-for-one sale" where he alone faced Pawlenty and Sviggum. Sviggum and Pawlenty responded by continually taunting Johnson in the final days that he did not have the power to negotiate a deal on his own.

-Politics. All 134 House members are up for election in November, but no senators are.

Whatever the reasons, longtime lawmakers called the trend is a bad one.

"It's getting worse," said DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville. "People seem more eager to throw out insults than to do anything."

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