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Discord Over Environment Bill Could Mean Trouble At Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — A shaky coalition of lawmakers that compiled a package of environmental and agricultural programs may not hold up in a coming special session, forcing Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to seek enough support for a final piece of the state budget Thursday and pause their hopes for a Friday special session.

Just 10 Senate Democrats — a quarter of the majority caucus — voted for the bill last month, requiring all but one GOP senator to get behind the budget to pass it. Dayton's veto gave environmental advocates and urban Democrats a second chance to address concerns that range from eliminating a citizen oversight board at the state's pollution agency to cracking open funds dedicated for landfill cleanup.

But several Senate Democrats say the final product isn't enough to win their votes. And the Senate's top Republican said the 25 votes his caucus put up in May could dwindle to just 10 as GOP members take issue with the growing size of the state's total budget.

Sen. Katie Sieben, a Newport Democrat and Assistant Majority Leader who voted against the bill, said the improvements don't cut it.

"If leadership was real interested in getting people who voted against the bill the first time, they would have reached out to ask what needed to change," she said of the 29 DFLers who voted against the bill. "People are frustrated."

The frustration creates a mathematical hurdle to reach a second 34-vote threshold for Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, the highest-ranking Democrat charged with seeing budget bills through in the Senate. If the environmental bill — or any of the three remaining pieces of the budget — fails, it could extend the special session and prompt a partial government shutdown at the end of June.

Dayton called on lawmakers Thursday to stomach bills they dislike and pass them as-is in order to avoid nearly 9,500 state employee layoffs and to allow the DNR to keep taking campsite reservations at state parks. And Thursday evening, he visited House and Senate Democrats personally to make a final pitch for a special session on Friday.

He said he won't call a special session until he's assured all four caucuses are on board with the budget bills in their current form, calling the environment budget as "the most in doubt."

"Using a hockey analogy, the game is over. Prepare for the next game." the Democratic governor said after meeting with House and Senate leaders. "I'm not saying people should like it."

Bakk said he's not sure whether there would be enough votes for the environmental bill. In an interview last week, he said the broad reach — it also funds state parks, conservation officers and bird-flu response among other things — make it hard to oppose.

"You get to a point where everyone feels like they gave up more than they should have and often times didn't get as much as they want," he said.

The list of DFL objections is still long after some changes they see as positive. An emptied account dedicated to landfill cleanup will be replenished with an expected surplus, and a change allowing companies that self-report violations to escape penalties was altered so that fines are waived only after working with the state to remedy an infraction.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he's lobbying his colleagues to vote no this time. He objects to a provision that abolishes the decades-old Citizens' Board at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and exempts copper and nickel mines on the Iron Range from the state's solid waste regulations.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann said Bakk can't expect Republicans to power the bill through again. The Eden Prairie Republican didn't cite any particular new provisions that may scare off GOP votes, but rather the total size of the revamped budget — nearly $42 billion over the next two years — and the secretive process in which it was crafted.

Hann estimated 10 Republican senators will vote for it, not the 25 who supported it in May.

But Bakk called Hann's bluff on Wednesday.

"It would be a little hard to explain to the public if you voted for a bill three weeks ago to now go against a bill that's awful similar to it for the purpose of explicitly trying to take it down," the Cook Democrat said. "Someone is going to own that if it happens."

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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