Capitol Chatter: Bud Grant scores touchdown with senators
ST. PAUL -- The past week was full of big news under the Minnesota Capitol dome, everything from hundreds of workers protesting a proposal that would make joining unions optional to a sex scandal to the sudden stalling of a stadium construction bill.
But the most entertaining episode probably was an unannounced appearance by a Minnesota football legend, former Vikings coach Bud Grant, urging lawmakers to raise hunting and fishing license fees to fund programs related to those activities. He must have done well: The Senate natural resources committee unanimously passed the bill with license hikes.
Usually, senators ask tough questions about the issue a witness discusses. But it was obvious from the get-go that Grant was not the normal witness.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, wore an ear-to-ear smile when Grant sat down next to him to support his bill.
Grant opened his testimony joking that he was there to discuss something more important than a stadium, the most-discussed issue of the legislative session.
He buttered up the outdoors-oriented committee by proclaiming the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers offer the best fishing experiences in the country.
The 85-year-old ex-coach drove home his point that fees need to be increased to help today's hunters and anglers.
"I'm not talking about tomorrow, I'm talking about today..." he said. "I'm talking about me."
At the end of his testimony, Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, started to applaud, but caught himself after one clap. Legislators pretty much never applaud a witness.
Wilfs not there
The first legislative committee hearing about a Vikings stadium bill abruptly ended without a vote, leaving many questions unanswered.
While some Vikings officials were on hand to tackle those questions, two key figures were not. Board Chairman Zygi Wilf and President Mark Wilf were not in the Capitol committee room.
A nearly $1 billion stadium proposal includes $427 million of what generally is considered a Vikings contribution, but much of that may not come from the Wilfs themselves. National Football League aid and items such as selling seat licenses could be used to generate those funds.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he "always would advocate" for the owners to increase their own contributions.
"I'm sure it would help," he added about getting the bill passed.
Several legislators have complained that the bill gives too much public money to the Wilfs.
On the other hand, Zellers said, even wealthy people can go only so far: "I'm sure they have a limit on their credit card."
A proposed gay-marriage ban makes for some unusual alliances.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale and ex-Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, a one-time Republican legislator, launched Lawyers United for All Families, which will fight a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
"Our Constitution is a hard-earned gift from those who preceded us, and an enduring promise to those who will follow us," Mondale said. "It should be used to protect individual liberty, not to take it away."
Blatz said the Constitution should not "get caught up in the prevailing winds of the day."
Republicans are backing the amendment, which goes in front of voters Nov. 6.
The popular on-line coupon site Groupon apparently needs civics and geographic lessons.
A recent offer announced a $9 Capitol tour for two: "Tours are an ideal way for anyone to learn more about a new city without resorting to drastic measures such as running for mayor. Get acquainted with Minneapolis and the Minnesota State Capitol the easy way with this Groupon."
The Capitol, Minnesotans know, is in St. Paul, not Minneapolis. And city government is not housed there.
Also, Capitol tours are free, although a $5 donation is suggested.
No carp summit
Gov. Mark Dayton has hosted three invasive species summits, centered on stopping Asian carp, but no more are planned.
Instead, he said, Natural Resources Commission Tom Landwehr is setting up a meeting with legislative leaders on the subject.
The Minnesota Revenue Department says more than a million tax returns have been filed electronically, a faster and more accurate way to beat next month's deadline.
"If you e-file, errors are significantly reduced and you will receive your refund faster than if you paper file," Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said. "Paper returns can take 30 days or longer to process and tend to have more errors than returns filed electronically."
Last year, about 80 percent of the state's returns (2.1 million) were filed electronically.
A U.S. Sen. Al Franken proposal to improve highway bridges passed the Senate.
The Minnesota Democrat said the measure, if it becomes law, would sustain nearly 3 million jobs.
The bill is in response to a report that indicated one in 10 Minnesota bridges is structurally deficient.
"My bipartisan amendment will make bridges across the country safer and more reliable, and the transportation bill will improve the nation's crumbling infrastructure and set us up for long-term economic success," Franken said.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.