The prospects for a special session dealing with sports stadiums are slim if Gov. Tim Pawlenty is rigid in enforcing ground rules he released last week, according to area lawmakers.

The four leaders of the Legislature are supposed to respond by today to the governor’s “Special Session Menu” and “Special Session Conditions” — with unanimous support required before a session would be called by Pawlenty.

“The governor’s office called me and said tomorrow’s the day when I’m supposed to have the letter back,” Senate Minority Leader Dick Day said Monday. “I’m not sure what I can tell them.”

Pawlenty asked Day, R-Owatonna, and the other three legislative leaders to check off which agenda items they would like to discuss in a special session. Day said it’s hard for him to choose any because most Senate Republicans don’t want to come back to St. Paul until the next regular legislative session in March.

“A huge majority of my caucus doesn’t want a special session,” said Day, leader of the Senate Republican Caucus. “... So I’m kind of hung out to dry here.”

Even if the four leaders agree on what issues to discuss (proposals for new stadiums for the Twins and Gophers are most likely), a couple of other Pawlenty ground rules appear almost impossible to meet, area lawmakers said.

The four caucus leaders are required to certify “the votes exist in their respective chambers” to not only pass the bills but also to block any attempts to change the agreement reached by legislative leaders and the governor.

“I don’t know how anybody could certify that,” said Rep. John Dorn, DFL-Mankato. “There has to be an open process where people can offer changes.”

Dorn said that requirement basically prohibits individual lawmakers from doing their job. If a lawmaker believes that changing a proposal would be good for his constituents, it’s often his responsibility to offer that amendment.

The governor’s requirement that the entire process be completed in two days also would severely limit the public’s ability to testify for or against bills, Dorn said. And it wouldn’t be possible to have formal hearings where committees with expertise in particular issues could take testimony, offer amendments and vote on the bills.

“I don’t see that you can (accomplish it in two days) in a democratic way,” he said.

Pawlenty also wants the four leaders to guarantee that there will be enough votes to rein in any lawmakers who attempt to bring up controversial issues that aren’t on the official agenda for the special session.

“I’d tell him I sure would try,” Day said. “But I sure couldn’t promise him that.”

Rep. Brad Finstad, the chief sponsor of the Twins stadium proposal, agreed that it would be nearly impossible to swear in advance that bills would pass without any changes.

“It’s a tough guarantee, especially with the slim majority and the fact that there’s 134 of us (in the House) — a lot of unpredictability,” said Finstad, R-New Ulm.

The day before Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson was being asked to make that sort of guarantee under Pawlenty’s plan, he hadn’t even begun to poll members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter.

Some members have been letting Johnson know, however, that they’re not pleased that he, along with House Speaker Steve Sviggum, have been pushing for a special session on stadiums.

“He’s been getting resistance both for the special session,” Hottinger said, “and for the concept that he can speak for the caucus without speaking to the caucus.”

While Hottinger said he doesn’t favor a special session, he — like Finstad — would be inclined to support the stadium proposals for the Twins and the Gophers.

Day said he could probably support the $360 million Twins stadium, which would include no state funding and is to be financed with a Hennepin County sales tax and team contributions. Dorn said the various stadium plans aren’t solid enough for him to make a decision one way or the other.

Day and Dorn believe a session is unlikely, partly because the governor isn’t more actively cultivating support for new stadiums.

But Hottinger and Finstad believe votes could still occur this fall because of the efforts of Johnson and Sviggum.

“The leaders want it, and usually if they want it they get it,” Hottinger said, although he wonders if opposition by rank-and-file members and an ambivalent public will change that.

Finstad thinks Pawlenty’s menu and ground rules are an effort to prevent a repeat of the contentious and seemingly endless sessions of recent years. But he hopes the rigid rules are just a starting point for face-to-face discussions with lawmakers which will ultimately lead to a session just before Thanksgiving.

If the issue gets pushed back to the regular session in 2006 — an election year — Finstad senses trouble for any attempts to get new stadiums.

“Every day it gets closer to an election, elected officials seem to get more squishy and afraid of their own shadow,” he said.

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