Any hopes for a calm, cooperative start to the legislative session were quickly dashed on Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans sparred over everything from what building they were meeting in to extending unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers.
Democrats blasted Republican House leaders for going ahead with holding the session in the construction-filled Capitol. The House galleries are closed as part of the Capitol’s $310 million renovation. Only a limited number of visitors and members of the press have access to the chamber.
Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling challenged GOP-House Speaker Kurt Daudt’s ability to prevent all accredited members of the press from being on the House floor.
“We are not governed by a speaker who is king and gets to make up his own rules,” Liebling said.
Republicans pushed back, saying they are doing everything they can to make sure the public and media have access to the chamber. They also pointed out that Democrats previously voted in favor of holding the session in the Capitol when they approved building the $90 million Minnesota Senate Building.
“Years ago, the plan was to have the House chamber available for both bodies to use, several (House) speakers ago. So it’s not a surprise that we’re doing that. Frankly, do we want to start the day with political posturing? That was disappointing,” said Byron GOP Rep. Duane Quam in an interview.
The Senate opted to hold its session in the Minnesota Senate Building, which sits across the street from the Capitol.
The fight over the location of the House session was just the start of the political battles. The debate soon turned to the issue of extending unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers. House Republicans backed a push to suspend the House rules and take up the unemployment bill immediately. But Democrats refused to get on board, citing concerns with another provision in the bill that would provide a $272 million rebate to businesses for unemployment insurance and lower the rate they pay.
“They just wanted to proceed, to ramrod through a provision that they want at the expense of folks on the Iron Range who are suffering,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
The move to suspend the rules to take up the bill failed to get the supermajority support needed to pass. At a news conference, Republicans accused Democrats of holding up relief for Iron Range workers.
“They simply wanted to play politics and play the blame game, when what we could have done was roll up our sleeves and worked together,” Daudt said.