Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Education Policy Conference Committee Underway. Controversial issues on the House and Senate floors kept the Education Policy conferees from convening in an orderly manner (and even after they formally convened, the action went forward in fits and starts as legislators had to had back to their respective floors to take votes), but they did get underway. The meeting was devoted to discussing the contents in each the House and Senate bills and adopting those provisions that were either identical or similar (and non-controversial) in both bills.

Things begin in earnest tomorrow as more controversial provisions in both bills will be discussed and, in some cases, adopted. Legislative leadership has set a deadline of midnight Monday (that would be Monday, May 4, at midnight) to finish work on all policy conference committees, meaning that things will be fast and furious from this point forward. Adding to the complication for the Education Policy Conference Committee is that they have decided not to meet over the weekend, making it a "ye olde twenty pounds of potatoes in thy ten pound sack" situation. In other words, "much to do, little time."

Another complication is that, paraphrasing chief Senate conferee Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), it is the goal of the conference committee to construct a bill that the Governor will sign instead of sending him a bill that may make political points but not move education forward this session. Seeing that there are several provisions in each bill that the Governor adamantly opposes, particularly the proposed changes to the state report card developed by the interim task force chaired by Senator Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake) and Representative Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), it will be interesting to see whether a compromise with the Governor can be struck or if the provisions will have to be discarded.

All this and more will part of the discussion tomorrow. I will keep you in the loop.
What Does a Conference Committee Look Like? Sorry folks. Forgot the camera today and cannot give you a clear depiction of the physical reality that is a conference committee. So I've turned to some famous artists to give you (at least in some sense) of what's it all about.

A conference committee is very dignified, much like these Dutch Masters painted by Rembrandt. One improvement from the time of Rembrandt, however, is that there are women involved in these decision-making bodies.

It wouldn'[t be a conference committee if things didn't get a bit surreal at times. And although they probably don't get as surreal as this Max Ernst painting, there are times when I sit back and say to myself "This really isn't happening, is it?"

It's not all sweetness and light though. Sometimes a conference committee can look a lot like this medieval depiction of the Battle of Agincourt (sorry, can't find the artist's name). Unfortunately, this Battle of Agincourt usually doesn't feature oratory reaching the heights of the "St. Crispin's Day" speech in Shakespeare's Henry V.

And sometimes it just gets bloody, like in Caravaggio's "Judith Beheading Holofernes." Well, maybe not quite this bloody, but it can seem that way when the verbal daggers start flying. But somehow, in this particular conference committee, I doubt the rhetoric is going to be sharp enough to dent a tissue.

But I kid. Conference committees have elements of all of these paintings, but more than anything else, it's a bunch of folks working hard trying to make Minnesota a better place to live, work, play, and get a good education. It's rare everyone gets everything they want, but the results are usually pretty good and the process, while mind-numbingly slow at times, is as well.

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