So What Happened? It took a bit longer than expected when the day began, but the special session did manage to finish in one sitting. It was smooth sailing, albeit with some spirited debate, for four of the five bills considered by the Legislature on Friday, with the complications coming on the Agricultural and Environment bill. That bill did not pass the Senate on its first pass through, but the Senate did pass it after it had been amended. The House struck those amendments and sent it back to the Senate, where the bill did receive enough votes to pass. Senate Republicans supplied the bulk of the votes to pass the bill on its return from the House in return for a fair hearing on tax cut proposals next session. As the session ends, there appears to be approximately $800 million on the bottom line going into next year and if the economy remains steady, that will likely mean there will be a lot of discussion on taxes and transportation, the two major budget areas that were left unaddressed in 2015.
How did we get to this point? Good question and a lot will depend upon who you ask. I think MinnPost's Briana Bierschbach did a nice job laying out the difficulty in getting the Legislature to come to "yes" in a way that would have prevented this special session and some of those difficulties are becoming endemic to the system as a whole and will likely resurface again in the future, especially with divided government. For those of you who haven't read much of Bierschbach's work, she's done a marvelous job since joining MinnPost reporting on the Minnesota Legislature.
Here's a link to that article: Briana Bierschbach MinnPost Article
The only perspective I would add to her viewpoints is the effect technology has had the legislative process. It used to be that decisions had to be made well in advance of the waning hours of the session because the technology couldn't handle the actual physical production of bills. Now, decisions can be forestalled until the last possible minute and when there are ideological differences, it's pretty much a recipe for a special session. I think what gave this session it's own flavor that led to the special session were the lack of a tax bill (nothing keeps everyone in line like the tax bill), but the differences in approaches on the tax issue would have made fashioning a bill very difficult. The other item that contributed greatly was legislative leadership setting its budget targets separately from the Governor in trying to bring the session to an end. Whether or not there will be finger-pointing over that remains to be seen. Hard to say and I'm just spit-balling here (and I never question proceedings at the highest level because they are a lot of dimensions to those decisions).
Like Representative Sarah Anderson said in the article I linked above, "You can't change the process without changing human nature." It's a human process and I think everyone, even those who are disappointed with the outcome this year or the process in general, has to keep that in mind.