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MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE NOTEBOOK: 'Camp Impasse' crew watch a closed door

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Capitol press corps needs to be at the center of the action, so reporters brought out well-worn camping chairs and set up in front of the governor's office, where legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty met countless t...

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Capitol press corps needs to be at the center of the action, so reporters brought out well-worn camping chairs and set up in front of the governor's office, where legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty met countless times in the past couple of weeks.

For the most part, that was not exactly the center of any action. Leaders and Pawlenty's spokesman would come out of the office, Room 130, and make pronouncements that discussion was civil and productive. But they almost never said anything about real progress.

Brian McClung, the governor's communications director, donated some really cheap plastic toys -- rescued from a pinata -- that bored reporters could abuse. Some reporters slept, some paced and others read stacks of newspapers. A semi-circle of television cameras, fronted by reporters' chairs, blocked the attorney general office's entrance and hindered Capitol tours.

A gaggle of lobbyist hangers-on stayed nearby, so they could get the unfiltered announcement of whatever leaders and Pawlenty did. They generally did not stay as late as reporters.

The closed-door talks were meant to produce what around the Capitol is known as a "global agreement" to tie up loose ends of all the major bills remaining on lawmakers' plates. Property taxes, a budget deficit, an education funding increase and health care reform all were being discussed in the final days, and as with most things in the Legislature, all were tied together.

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It's a record

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich announced that the Minnesota House set a bill-introduction record this year.

As of Friday, 4,246 bills were introduced by representative, a small fraction of which ever got a committee hearing. Senators, by the way, were not far behind with 3,881 bills during the two-year session.

While Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, was making that announcement, legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty weren't meeting to reach a session-ending budget deal. There was plenty of time for bill-counting in the final days.

Intent questioned

Republicans wondered whether Minnesota House K-12 finance Chairwoman Mindy Greiling designed an education finance bill to benefit her hometown.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said it was ironic that while the DFL's education bill blocks new school entries into the Q-Comp program, Greiling's Roseville, Minn., district made the cut and would get added funds provided by the alternative teacher pay program.

Greiling said she and other legislative negotiators decided ona March 20 deadline for Q-Comp applicants without her knowing of her local district's plans.

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"If I was being truly political, I would make sure the speaker's district got in," Greiling said, referring to schools in House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher's Minneapolis district that missed the cut.

Sign of the times

At the end of the legislative session floor debates are long, sporadic and don't recognize normal dining hours.

The situation apparently makes some people sick.

That leaves many lawmakers, lobbyists and Capitol reporters frequenting a food stand outside the House and Senate chambers. There are sandwiches, beverages, candy and ice cream.

And there was a note taped to the cash register.

It read: "Yes, we have Tums and Ibuprofen."but if you follow the rules, let people cover it."

Minnesota Capitol recontributed to this report. Wente and Davis report for Forum Communiations Co., which owns the Herald.

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