Minnesota lawmakers knocked on a lot of doors and sacrificed a lot of time away from their families and day jobs to come to St. Paul.
None of them came with the intention of making laws in the dumbest possible way.
But here we are.
The Legislature has a few more hours to wrap up its work for the year. Most of that work could have been done weeks or months ago, but this session, like every session, ends in a last-minute rush to push a big wad of bills, tax cuts, good intentions, and typos out the door before midnight Sunday.
That unwieldy wad is the 2018 omnibus supplemental agriculture, environment and natural resources, jobs, energy, economic development, housing, and state government bill. It was a heavy enough lift before Friday, when a gunman walked into a Texas high school, killed 10 people, and sent lawmakers here scrambling for extra school safety funds.
As of midnight Friday, they were still cramming things into the omnibus or yanking them out. Minnesota’s constitution requires the Legislature to craft laws one subject at a time and one bill at a time. But the only rule that gets bent harder and more often is the line in the legislative manual that prohibits members from speaking “impertinently … superfluously or tediously.”
Which brings us to this long weekend of immovable deadlines and flexible legislative priorities.
Lawmakers are cranky, staffers are weary and the Capitol press corps is stress-eating big Costco tubs of peanut butter pretzels.
This end-of-session horse trading and arm twisting comes at a price. Usually, the price is That Thing You Like.
Would you like more funding to fight the opioid epidemic? New safeguards to shield the elderly from nursing home abuse? A bipartisan effort to fix one messed-up sentence in the state’s sexual harassment law? A new flood levee for Mankato?
Maybe you’d like Minnesota to bring its tax code into conformity with new federal laws so your 2018 returns don’t end up like something you’ve run through the wood chipper? I’m not sure what your thing is. Wine in the grocery stores? Housing for veterans?
Thing is, That Thing You Like might not make it out of St. Paul. I’m so sorry you had to find out like this.
Maybe lawmakers ran short on time. Maybe they scaled it back. Maybe they decided to hold a hearing on something they saw on TV instead. Maybe the governor vetoed your thing to persuade the Legislature to pass his thing. (School funding. He likes school funding.)
Maybe they wrapped That Thing You Like into the omnibus to give their colleagues something to vote for instead of against.
But maybe you aren’t willing to take maybe for an answer. Maybe, like hundreds of other Minnesotans this week, you pulled on a protest shirt, picked up a placard, and headed for the Capitol.
Some rallied for the stalled distracted driving bill; others called for a constitutional amendment on road funding; others railed against legislation that would increase fines and penalties on protesters who block freeways. Hundreds came to grieve the dead in Texas and call for gun control at home.
On Thursday, when those kids in Texas were still looking forward to summer vacation, the only protest sign in the Capitol rotunda was the one Marti Priest was holding over her head: Guns Kill Children.
She was there, she said, for 7-year-old Keyaris Samuels, who was alive when the Legislature debated gun control last month. He was killed Wednesday by a loaded gun he found while playing at home in Plymouth.
Don’t call his death an accident, she said. Accidents can’t be avoided.
And don’t let the Minnesota lawmakers tell you they can’t do anything to save the next kid from getting shot. We all saw the news conference last week where they outlined their plan to thwart terrorism on another continent.
Priest shifted her grip on the sign and started another circuit of the rotunda. She’d been there three hours and had enough money in the meter for at least another five. As she turned, the other side of her poster faced the House chambers:
We See How U Vote.
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