ST. PAUL -- Two Minnesota senators want to form a "purple" caucus to bring lawmakers from both parties together.
Sens. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said there is little time when members of the two parties can get to know each other, let alone discuss important issues. They plan to invite lawmakers to gather over a meal in the next couple of weeks to begin the process.
"They used to socialize as people," Reinert said of legislators.
Once Democrats and Republicans begin getting to know each other, Miller and Reinert said that they will begin discussing issues.
They said that Minnesotans tell politicians that they do not talk to each other, leading to difficulties legislating.
Miller said that the two have not discussed what the group will do if members agree on an approach to some issue. But, he said, he expects the group to focus on issues such as the budget, jobs and the economy.
Over the years, there have been many attempts by members of the two parties to join together in an attempt to accomplish things despite a partisan divide. Most have failed.
"If we don't do anything, I can guarantee, we won't have an impact," Reinert said.
Purple often is used when people discuss combining Democratic and Republican ideas since Democrats are known as blue and Republicans as red.
City seeks arts center
Park Rapids wants $4 million from the state to rehabilitate a former National Guard armory into a regional arts center.
Senators made no promises Monday when the first legislative committee considered the request. The proposal was held over for possible further discussion when, and if, lawmakers take up a public works funding bill this year.
"It's kind of a blighted area of our downtown," Executive Director David Collins of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission told a Senate economic development committee.
The Upper Mississippi River Center for the Arts would be home to art such as paintings as well as plays and music.
Alan Zemek, who splits his time between Park Rapids and Southern California, said the center would help Park Rapids' economy.
"We can't market just on clean water and trails," Zemek said.
The state's $4 million would be part of the total funding package, which includes $1 million in private donations. More than $2 million already has been spent on the armory, which was abandoned 20 years ago.
State money would be used to rehabilitate the building. Other funds would be used to buy it from the private owner.
City leaders have worked five years on the arts center.
"It is a great building," said Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, sponsors the House bill.
The armory is on U.S. 71 near Minnesota 34, "a very high visibility location," Skoe said.
"Throughout its history, it was always the place where residents gathered," Zemek said.
Public works bills, funded by the state selling bonds, generally are considered in even-numbered years. However, many Democrats, including Gov. Mark Dayton, want a big bonding bill this year.
Cleaning Voyageurs water
People who live near Voyageurs National Park say they need state help to get rid of their sewage.
"We are facing an environmental impact and an economic one," Koochiching County Commissioner Wade Pavlak told a Senate committee Monday.
No type of septic system works in the northeastern Minnesota area, he said, because the land sits on hard rock.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is asking the state for $9 million for the system. Pavlak said his county already has spent $400,000 on the situation.
Thomas Dougherty of Rainy Lake Houseboats said the situation hurts the area's economy.
"We don't have the ability to treat the water," he said, adding that one facility has to truck its waste water to International Falls.
A Senate economic development committee will consider the proposal if a public works bill is to be debated this year. However, large public works bills generally are considered in even-numbered years.