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‘The tensions were running too hot’

Local representatives said they were disappointed in the results of the special session that ended Saturday morning without agreements reached on COVID-19 relief funding for counties and cities, police accountability reform or state bonding projects.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks and District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett said they both left frustrated, particularly because COVID-19 relief was not approved for counties and cities. The bill included $1.3 million in funding for Albert Lea, $1.93 million for Austin, $3.7 million for Freeborn County and $4.9 million for Mower County.

She said leadership in both the House and the Senate had agreed upon the bill for the relief funding, but at the last minute House Democrats added other outside spending to the bill.

“It seemed like for a while, there were things being agreed upon, especially in certain areas, and then it just blew apart,” Bennett said. “To me when people agree and give their word that, yes, this is a compromise, we all agree upon it, then it shouldn’t suddenly at the last minute be dismantled and redone.”

Sparks compared the setting with legislators in St. Paul to a pressure cooker.

“The tensions were running too hot,” Sparks said. “The sides are so dug in right now.”

Bennett said the negotiations are mainly happening at the leadership level with both the majority and minority parties.

Sparks said negotiations were happening on a bonding bill up to the end, but those also unraveled.

The bill had included funding for flood mitigation on East Main Street and for the completion of the Blazing Star Trail, and he was still “negotiating hard” for the continuation of the Fountain Lake dredging project.

He said he is hopeful the Legislature will be able to pass a robust bonding bill when it returns for another special session, likely in July.

“I would have loved to have gotten this done and taken care of,” Sparks said.

Bennett said she would like to see a bonding bill passed as well but is unsure when that will take place, noting it may not happen until after the other issues are addressed. She noted how time-sensitive some of the local bonding requests are.

Regarding law enforcement reform, Sparks said the need for reform has been building for many years, but he said he did not think it was fair for legislators to have to figure that out in a matter of only a few days.

While he agrees that George Floyd’s death was “horrible,” he noted that sometimes knee-jerk reaction law-making is not always the best.

Bennett said she agrees there are things that need to be done to reform the system but those discussions also “blew apart.”

“There’s kind of an all-or-none mentality,” she said. “That’s not a productive way to get that done in that type of situation.”

She said she thought legislators could have at least approved the things both Republicans and Democrats agreed upon, while continuing to work on the others.

Bennett said she thinks most of the police reforms should wait until the regular session to run through committees and where all of the legislators can be involved, not just the leadership.

“I do believe all voices should be heard,” she said.