Expanded gambling. Stadium talks. Redistricting. Constitutional amendments. With the end of the 2011 session creeping closer and closer, lawmakers' plates are not only full, they're overflowing, and some are beginning to wonder how the Legislature will find time to address it all while working to solve the $5 billion budget deficit.
Redistricting is the latest item the GOP-controlled Legislature has piled onto its plate. Of course, they don't have a choice; it's just the timing is bad. Redistricting is the redrawing of political boundaries that happens once every 10 years. This time around, however, it's coinciding with the process of tackling a massive budget deficit.
The House Redistricting Committee approved a redistricting plan late Tuesday on a party-line vote of 7-5, after more than four hours of testimony and debate. The proposal, called partisan by Democratic members of the Legislature, would result in 20 incumbent House members and six incumbent senators paired up into districts with another incumbent.
"I think it's very partisan," District 20A Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock said of the opening proposal. "It's not what the public wants, but the public didn't really have a chance to have its voice heard."
Falk doesn't serve on the redistricting committee but is concerned the public didn't have enough of a role in the process to date. Three redistricting meetings involving the public took place in outstate Minnesota, including one in Marshall.
"I think they're going under the auspices of public process," he said. "There was the allure of public comment, but the public didn't have much time to see the map before the bill was heard."
Public disclosure on the redistricting front isn't an issue to District 21A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, who said there have been a total of 13 redistricting committee meetings - 10 at the Capitol, plus the three that took place outstate. That's a pretty high number, he said, compared to schedules other committees draw up.
"We've met 13 times, which is pretty much once a week," he said. "Most committees don't meet outstate; how many other committees even go outstate? I think three is actually a large number compared to how much other committees go out. I think it's been a fairly transparent process."
What concerns Falk more than the issue of redistricting itself is the lack of attention the budget is getting because of myriad of other issues such as redistricting that have been discussed and debated on at the Capitol. And this could be a time-consuming one. A spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday the governor would only sign a legislative plan that gets votes from members of both parties, and with Democratic lawmakers against the initial proposal, a Dayton veto of the GOP plan appears likely, which would land the entire redistricting battle in court. Falk said legislators have to be careful on how much time they are spending on redistricting and keep a tight focus on more pressing issues.
"We're trying to get budget and policy bills done on time," he said. "The second deadline is this Friday, so it's going to be tough. For (redistricting) to be taking up as much of the spotlight as it is, it's a distraction of the most important point - that we don't have a budget."
But Swedzinski said elected officials have a duty to shine that spotlight on as many areas as they can. House and Senate leaders, he said, know the Legislature's No. 1 priority is the budget deficit, but can't turn a deaf ear to other pertinent issues that could potentially affect the entire state.
"The leadership understands the big issues we're facing with the shortfall, that's why we went ahead and did the omnibus bill first," he said. "In past years they would leave the budget until the end. I think to say we're somehow behind the ball is wrong. We all have to be able to multitask and we're dealing with some very important issues. The budget is first and foremost in everyone's mind, but we can't neglect other parts of our job."
Republican Sen. Doug Magnus of Slayton said many policy issues that are being brought up this year can wait.
"Personally, I don't favor all these policy things and other issues that are coming up," Magnus said. "In my opinion, we can work on those next year; they're not going anywhere."
Magnus said he is concerned about the many issues that have been brought to the Legislature, but wants to get the budget situation under control.