ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A massive, friendly dog padded around Rep. Peggy Bennett’s office this week, hemmed in by a plastic fence he could easily jump.
Colter, a 6-year-old Shiloh shepherd, is like a visiting family member for the freshman Republican from Albert Lea. “Weeks like this,” she said, “he’s kind of an anchor that just brings you back to reality.”
Bennett’s strategy may be unique, but plenty of legislators have their own methods of dealing with the alternating stress and boredom that comes every May.
The final days of a legislative session are part waiting game and part endless negotiation. A little less than half of the state’s 201 lawmakers sit on committees trying to reach deals on competing budget and policy bills. The rest have more free time but still need to stick around for floor debates that can last hours.
That means “a whole lot of nothing,” said Sen. Branden Petersen. “You sit around and wait.”
The Andover Republican spends his end-of-session time hitting nearby food trucks and poring over bills, looking for provisions that might slip past his colleagues.
Others get away from the Capitol. Rep. Phyllis Kahn and a few other House members toured the new St. Paul Saints stadium last week after a quick floor session.
“I tell people, particularly if the weather’s nice, they should use it to get some of the exercise they’ve been missing all session,” the veteran Minneapolis Democrat said.
Many use lengthy floor sessions to catch up on paperwork. Rep. Bob Dettmer estimated he’s got about 300 emails to go through. The Forest Lake Republican also plans to find time to personally sign congratulatory letters to the roughly 1,800 students finishing high school in his district. And that’s on top of his seat on the conference committee set to decide the Legislature’s education budget.
Legislative leaders are meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton in closed-door sessions to trade chits and hammer out a budget deal. Many rank-and-file members are in a holding period until a compromise emerges, but not all of them mind.
“During this time, it’s not really stressful for me,” Bennett said. “When I was having committee meetings and other meetings, there’s hardly any time to talk to people. That’s my favorite part.”
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