Dayton signs stadium bill, but session was about more

The 2012 legislative session will be remembered as the year of the Vikings’ stadium.

Bolstered by saturation media coverage, the drive to build the $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis by the final weeks of the session towered over virtually any other issue before Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican Legislature.

Dayton signed the stadium bill in a State Capitol ceremony Monday, May 14.

The stadium was one of those issues that comes along every 20 or 30 years, explained House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

“It took up so much time, so much air, so much oxygen out of the room, and energy, it’s hard to focus on what was traditional,” said Zellers of the waves caused by the stadium.

Republicans cite the stadium as Dayton’s sole priority — Zellers, for one, kept a certain distance from the stadium, voting against it, though a member of the House Republican Caucus said the speaker worked hard behind the scenes to find Republican votes.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, argued that the Democratic votes that pushed the stadium over the top were the saving grace to a session that otherwise would have proven a “do-nothing session.”

“I would say that Paul (House Minority Leader Paul Thissen) and I bailed them out,” said Bakk of Republicans.

Dayton styled Republican talk of the stadium being his No. 1 priority so much “spin.”

“My priority from Day One was jobs,” said Dayton.

The stadium — the bonding bill — accounts for thousands of new jobs, he explained.

Things did happen this session outside of the decade-old Vikings’ stadium issue apparently being resolved.

Advocates of the proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment — Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, bill author in the House — saw Photo ID passed and placed on the November ballot along with the proposed same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment.

The so-called Right-to-Work amendment, which, among other things, would have outlawed the payment of union dues by nonunion members, brought throngs of antiamendment activists to the State Capitol when a Right-to-Work bill, carried by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, had a hearing.

But the initiative, unlike Photo ID, faded.

In the area of the environment and outdoors, lawmakers channeled funding towards combating invading Asian carp — the advancing invasive species increasingly has shown signs of moving into Minnesota waters.

A proposed invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota received funding.

Hunting and fishing license fees were raised.

Resident small game licenses increased by $3; resident deer hunting licenses increased by $4.

Hunting and fishing licenses for young people, ages 13 to 18, are now $5.

Resident fishing licenses will increase from $17 to $22, with nonresident fishing licenses increasing from $37.50 to $40.

One reason for the license fee increases is that the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) critical game and fish fund is flagging, and officials warn that without a shot of additional money it could slip into the red by next summer.

Management reform of the state’s 2.5 million acres of school trust land — a legacy dating back to the foundation of the country — was achieved after decades of sporadic attempts.

The new trust land contour now includes a lands manager working in tandem with the DNR on trust land management issues and reporting back to lawmakers on the status of the land set aside for school children.

“It’s monumental — both for me personally, and for the trust lands,” said Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, of the trust land reform that she had dedicated much of her legislative career to finding.

In the area of bonding, Republicans sent about a $500 million bonding bill to the governor, which he signed into law.

Bonding was somewhat unusual this year, with House Republicans, for a time, proposing two bills, one a $220 million effort dedicated solely to State Capitol renovation.

But that bill failed on the House floor.

In the end, some $44 million was slated for State Capitol repairs.

Some area items included in the bonding bill are the North Hennepin Community College Bioscience and Health Careers addition for $26 million, the Dakota County Technical College Transportation and Emerging Technologies Lab renovation for $7 million, the Anoka-Ramsey Community College at Coon Rapids Bioscience and Allied Health addition for about $1 million, Minnesota Zoo asset preservation for $4 million, and $19.5 million for the Camp Ripley Education Center addition.

The Southwest Corridor Light Rail Line received no funding in the bonding bill.