MARSHALL - Plenty of noise has been made at the state Capitol since the 2012 Legislative session convened a week-and-a-half ago, but a lot of it hasn't been of the positive nature.
The session got off to rocky partisan start with the Senate Rules Committee voting to slash $444,400 from the DFL Senate staffing budget - a cut that would cost the DFL a dozen or more Senate staffers.
And earlier this week, the Senate voted against the appointment of Public Utilities Commissioner Ellen Anderson.
Needless to say, neither move sat well with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who called out the Republicans and said they were "unfit to govern."
District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms said the perception of Capitol rancor being a distraction is misleading.
"There haven't been any distractions; there are certain factions trying to make these issues a distraction but they're not," Dahms said. "When it comes to the budget with the DFL, we probably should've done it sooner."
Dahms strenuously defended the GOP's cuts, saying the Republicans allowed them to have that extra money a year ago assuming they would get their spending in line, but that didn't happen.
"We have 37 senators, they have 30, so we have more employees than they do," he said. "Even after the cuts, they're still spending $160,000 more to take care of 30 senators. There is a problem there. We have to be reasonable in the way we spend out money. I think when we have seven more senators and allow them to spend $10,000 more than we do, I don't think that's fair."
District 20A Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, called the early happenings at the Capitol "a huge distraction. We keep talking about jobs and a bonding bill and unfortunately there hasn't been a jobs bill introduced yet or any legislation pending to talk about jobs. We're just getting all of this side issue garbage. It's a pure partisan fiasco."
A rough start to be sure, and these two items have grabbed the lion's share of statewide attention, but what about the tasks at hand, the duties of the lawmakers: legislation?
"There's always the headlines, and usually five percent of what goes on catches the headlines," District 201A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said. "You always hear about the plane that crashes, but no one hears about the ones that land safely. We have discourse at the Capitol every day and people always talk about it, but we are working on some things."
Swedzinski has introduced two ag-related bills this session - one, a certified manufacturing process (CMP) bill that deals with manufacturing and exporting, and the other, a bill that would create a micro loan program for immigrant farmers.
"There are a lot of good legislative things happening," Dahms said. "We're working on some things with environment, next-generation fuels, we're also working on some permitting issues. There's a lot of bipartisan things going on."
Dahms has authored a jobs bill to remove a real and legal trade barrier for Minnesota's agriculture businesses. The legislation repeals certain department and administrative obstacles and provides businesses the opportunity to get their products certified for export, in accordance with the Federal Department of Agriculture regulations.
A potential constitutional amendment that would require people to show a government-issued photo ID when they vote got its first hearing Wednesday in the Senate.
This, like most other constitutional amendment proposals, is a controversial and a potentially explosive issue and will continue to be as many question how passage could disenfranchise voters in Minnesota. Supporters say it would prevent voter fraud, but opponents question if voter fraud is even an issue in Minnesota. Other constitutional amendments up for debate this year include gay marriage and the so-called "right-to-work" amendment, which would allow all workers to decide whether to join unions regardless of existing contracts that might require membership.
There are also budget-related constitutional amendments that have been introduced in the Legislature.
One would require a three-fifth supermajority vote in both bodies of the Legislature in order to pass a tax increase, one would limit general fund spending in the biennium to just 98 of forecasted revenues, and one would limit all spending in the biennium to the amount of all revenues collected in the previous biennium.