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Minnesota special session fizzles to a close, no additional commissioners cut or confirmed

After more than a month in legislative special session, the Minnesota Senate gaveled out Wednesday after taking up then abandoning a set of commissioner confirmations.

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, talks to reporters at a news conference at the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul on June 30, 2021. (Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service)
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Wednesday, July 7, closed out a legislative special session without taking on a set of planned commissioner confirmations and officially ending legislative action after nearly a month back at the Capitol.

On a 46-18 vote, the body decided to adjourn the session sine die after Republicans agreed to delay votes on confirming appointments of Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Board of Animal Health President Dean Compart.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka , R-East Gull Lake, on Wednesday said the pair could rest easy knowing their confirmations would come later. But the fate of another agency head, Housing Minnesota Commissioner Jennifer Ho, was less certain and would come later, he said.

MORE: Sen. Paul Gazelka mulls 2022 run for Minnesota governor
A day earlier, then-Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop submitted her resignation to Gov. Tim Walz just ahead of a confirmation hearing. Walz and Bishop said they expected the GOP-led Senate to block the confirmation of her appointment and opted to depart the agency voluntarily to avoid further politicization.

Bishop and the other commissioners up for review in the extended special session had been on the job for more than two years and received days' notice that they'd come up for a performance review this week.

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Republicans who lead the Minnesota Senate said they opted to use the special session to consider six commissioners' appointments because it could separate the conversations from the budget or emergency powers-related politics.

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“I think it’s important that if a commissioner is not doing their job that there’s some accountability and I treat it just as an employer or an employee would and give them ample time to improve and opportunities to get better and that’s what we did,” Gazelka said. “Our goal isn’t to remove commissioners, our goal is for commissioners to work with us.”
He said Wednesday that while Republicans wanted to move forward with the confirmation of three appointees, they'd support an end to the special session after approving the head of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and Office of School Trust Lands a day earlier.

Democrats said the surprise move to bring up six of dozens of appointees awaiting Senate confirmation without a broader review of the Walz administration's picks was an abuse of the process aimed at eliminating certain commissioners.

"This is like a sword of Damocles, hanging over the heads of the governor’s appointees for years and so if they do anything, they could be put crosswise with the Senate majority and find themselves called up for confirmation all of a sudden when it’s a foregone conclusion," Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, told reporters following the vote to adjourn. "That’s not OK.”

Lawmakers are expected to return in September to weigh recommendations on how the state should spend $250 million designated for frontline employee bonus pay.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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