Opening Day of 2016 Minnesota Legislative Session
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Tuesday was opening day of the 2016 Minnesota Legislative Session.
“I think it’s always a very energetic day. You can feel the buzz within the building. It’s a little different not being within the State Capitol,” said Democratic State Sen. Dan Sparks, of Austin.
This year, the sound of the gavel is accompanied by the sound of construction. Because of the construction at the capitol, this year’s session is only 10 weeks long. That means lawmakers have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
“I think this will drive us to decisions a lot faster. I think it’s probably good,” said Republican State Sen. David Senjem, of Rochester.
The Senate is meeting in a temporary chamber during the renovation, but the House is still meeting in the capitol building while crews are at work.
“We should not be meeting in a construction zone and we should have had more time to meet. We’re going have to make the best of it, but I think that this cuts off most of the public access, and that is a real problem,” said Democratic State Rep. Tina Liebling, of Rochester.
On the top of this year’s priorities is passing a transportation bill that would fund road and bridge repair across the state.
“I think that’s going be a real tough one this year. We all agree there’s a problem, we don’t all agree on how to handle it,” said Democratic State Rep. Kim Norton.
Republicans want to put the brakes on a the possibility of a gas tax increase.
“When we have a surplus like this, we don’t need to take more taxes from people. And we have a way of utilizing current taxes and re-prioritizing them. Taxes that make sense, like on car parts, and car rentals and so on,” said Republican State Rep. Peggy Bennett, of Albert Lea.
Also topping the agenda is the bonding bill. Several local projects, including upgrades to Riverland Community College’s Albert Lea campus, have been proposed.
“We’re looking forward to a good, strong bonding bill to be able to match what we need with what the money is,” said Democratic State Rep. Jeanne Poppe, of Austin.
“The project that absolutely must happen, that impacts all of Minnesota, particularly southern Minnesota, is the Rochester International Airport,” said Republican State Sen. Carla Nelson, of Rochester.
The Department of Homeland Security says the airport must make changes to its customs and border patrol or it could lose its international status.
“So that is critical. That must be part of the end solution,” said Nelson.
As the buzz of the first day starts to fade, it’s back to business.
“I’m hopeful that everybody will get to work this week and the following weeks and make some good decisions for the state of Minnesota,” said Senjem.
Now that the session is underway, Gov. Mark Dayton can deliver his legislative priorities in the State of the State Address. He’ll do that in front of a joint session in St. Paul on Wednesday night.