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Lawmakers go back to work as session ends without agreements
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"Our message to the Legislature is `Get back to work and finish the job,"' Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
The 2005 legislative session has ended, and the special session has begun. Lawmakers failed to reach agreement on several major spending bills before the constitutional deadline to adjourn. Gov. Pawlenty called them back into session immediately, despite the lack of a budget deal.

St. Paul, Minn. — Shortly after midnight, the House and Senate adjourned.

"Mr. President, I move that the Minnesota Senate adjourn this legislative session."

A minute later, the Legislature was back in business...

"I declare that the House of Representatives organize for this special session."

Before the regular session ended, lawmakers passed two budget bills. The first, a $1.7 billion public safety bill, would create tougher penalties for sex offenders and makers of methamphetamine. The second, a $468 million state government bill, would fund most state agencies for the next two years.

But lawmakers haven't agreed on the largest areas of state spending: K-12 education and health and human services.

Gov. Pawlenty says he decided to call a special session immediately so that Legislators wouldn't go home and forget about the need to finish the budget.

"If you're all here having your schedules disrupted with vacations and family commitments and job commitments and they're all barking at each other, that by itself becomes a pressure point," he said.

If the Legislature can't agree on a new two-year budget by July 1, some state programs and services will shut down. Since July 1 is considered the next deadline, many lawmakers are grumbling about the governor's decision to call them back immediately.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar says Pawlenty should have waited a few days.

"We've been here essentially for four and a half months, five to six days a week, and with Memorial Day simply around the corner, I thought it would have been smarter to allow us to have some time off," Johnson said.

Despite the start of the special session, most lawmakers will get a few days off. The House recessed until Thursday, the Senate until Friday. Johnson says legislative leaders will continue to negotiate, but he didn't think all 201 legislators needed to remain in St. Paul.

Pawlenty is hoping that disgruntled legislators will persuade their leaders to cut a deal, but that remains to be seen.

Freshman House Democrat Frank Moe of Bemidji lives about four hours from the Capitol. He says although he wants the Legislature to finish its work, the public is mainly concerned about the end product.

"My constituents are saying, 'don't cave.' They don't want us just to roll over and give the governor everything he wants. They want us to fight for health care and education and do it in a responsible way," according to Moe.

The DFL-controlled Senate wants to spend about a billion dollars more than the Republican-controlled House. To try to bridge the gap, Pawlenty has proposed a "health impact fee" of 75 cents a pack on cigarettes.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says Senate Democrats responded with only a half-hearted counter offer.

"The Senate is dysfunctional. The Senate can't make a decision. The Senate cannot cooperate and do the best interests of the state of Minnesota," according to Sviggum.

Senate DFL leader Johnson responded by advising Republican leaders to learn about "compromise and just being decent."

And in yet another example of the deep divide between the House and Senate, the two chambers also failed to agree on when the Legislature should return next year. The Senate voted to come back on February 28, while the House wants to return on March 8. Legislative leaders couldn't even agree on what the conflicting dates mean. Either the next session will be as early as next January, or they won't be able to meet until 2007.