Legislative notebook: Ethics complaint alleges senator lied to reportersDemocrats say the interim leader of the Minnesota Senate lied to reporters about a sex scandal in December and one of them filed an ethics complaint Monday.
By: Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Pine Journal
Democrats say the interim leader of the Minnesota Senate lied to reporters about a sex scandal in December and one of them filed an ethics complaint Monday.
“There should be a public apology on the floor of the Senate,” Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul said about Sen. Geoff Michel.
Michel and three other senators abruptly called a news conference last December, minutes after a reporter tweeted that Amy Koch, who a day earlier resigned her post as Senate majority leader, had an improper relationship with an employee.
In the December news conference, the Edina Republican said he knew of the affair between Koch and aide Michael Brodkorb for “a couple of weeks.” Later, it was learned that he had known about the relationship for more than a couple of months.
While Pappas alone signed the ethics complaint against Michel, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, joined her in announcing the complaint. Pappas said “a couple” of other senators refused her request to sign the complaint.
Bakk and Pappas questioned why Michel, who became interim leader after Koch resigned, told reporters he knew about the affair two weeks when he actually knew about it far longer. They also said Michel should have acted immediately when he learned about the affair in September instead of waiting to confront Koch in December.
Pappas said that Michel’s lack of action affects the integrity of the Senate. Bakk said it placed dishonor on the institution.
Michel said Bakk and Pappas are just playing politics.
“The DFL wants a few more headlines,” Michel said. “The conflict of interest has been resolved. The workplace environment has improved. And, we did this while protecting whistleblowers and staff.”
The Senate ethics committee must consider the Pappas complaint within 30 days.
Bakk said Koch has suffered by resigning her leadership post and he knows of no senators planning to take an ethics action against her.
Brodkorb was suspected as the staffer involved with Koch, but that was not confirmed until his attorneys talked to the media last week. They are preparing a lawsuit against the Senate, saying that he was fired from his job but women employees have not been fired after having affairs with male senators.
Trust fund change
The Minnesota House approved a bill 104-26 setting up an independent body to govern school trust lands to do a better job raising money for students.
Supporters of the bill complain that the state Department of Natural Resources has not done a good job managing the 2.5 million acres of land, mostly in northern Minnesota. They say, for instance, more money could be received for mineral and logging rights.
Money from trust lands goes directly to schools.
A similar bill is moving through the Senate.
Racino bill fails
A committee defeated a bill to add casinos to Minnesota’s two horse-racing tracks, even though the Senate majority leader and deputy majority leader pushed the proposal.
The Senate State Government Committee handed the racino bill an 8-5 defeat Monday. While the issue could arise again this legislative session, it has not passed in years and its loss in a key committee makes its advance very unlikely.
The bill originally would have provided up to $120 million a year the state would receive for economic development. The committee quickly changed the benefactor to schools, to help repay $2.2 billion in delayed state aid.
Eventually, the committee made another change, opting to use the money for merit-based scholarships given to students headed to colleges, universities and trade schools.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said that he could support either the school payback or the scholarship idea because either could save the state’s horse industry, which he said otherwise may not survive more than two or three more years.
“It is about making that industry grow and flourish in Minnesota,” Senjem said.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, offered an amendment that the committee accepted to require the county where a racino is located to hold a referendum approving the slot machines.
The racino plan has been considered as a way to fund a new Vikings stadium,
Voter ID vote set
The House likely will approve on Tuesday a constitutional amendment proposal requiring voters to show photographic identification before casting ballots.
Republican leaders are confident they have the votes to pass the measure. A similar proposal has one committee hearing remaining before reaching the full Senate.
The House rules committee on Monday approved the plan, which would need voter approval Nov. 6, on a party-line 13-10 vote.
Democrats accused House Majority Leader Matt Dean of rushing committee debate. But he said the committee only was to look at a limited part of the bill.
Dayton lobbies council
Gov. Mark Dayton tried Monday to convince two undecided Minneapolis City Council members to support a new Vikings stadium in their downtown.
The two promised to consider Dayton’s request, he said. They are council members who have not taken a public position and whose votes appear to be needed for a stadium.
The stadium bill is stalled in a Senate committee because the plan to fund stadium construction loans by increased charity pulltab and bingo taxes with bars using electronic devices. Many lawmakers have said they want a backup financing plan in case charitable gambling proceeds are not enough.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said he expects a revised plan this week.
The Vikings, some Minneapolis leaders, Dayton and key state lawmakers propose a $975 million stadium next to the existing Metrodome.
A City Council decision may not be needed legally before the Legislature decides the issue, but Dayton and key stadium backers say the proposal cannot pass the Legislature without that support in advance.
“I think what the Legislature is looking for is a letter that’s clear that at least a majority of the members of the Minneapolis City Council support the project,” Dayton said.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Pine Journal.