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DFL leader unhappy with limited public access at State Capitol for 2016 session

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Holding the 2016 legislative session in the State Capitol building while it's still undergoing renovations will restrict the amount of public access to crucial meetings – and a leading lawmaker is not happy about it.

House DFL leader Rep. Paul Thissen wrote to Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt on Tuesday, calling on him to look into options that will allow as many members of the public as possible to attend hearings and meetings.

MPR revealed on Monday that the decision to hold next year's session in the Capitol presents a number of challenges that were laid out by the Department of Administration.

This includes there being no running water or operational restrooms in the Capitol (portable bathrooms will be stationed outside instead) and "limited access" for the public to the building, including no access to the House Gallery.

Thissen, in a press release issued Tuesday, said he worries about the public having limited opportunities to see or engage with their elected representatives and state government in action.

"I am writing to you today to encourage you to look again at other options for the 2016 legislative session that will at least provide the public with some measure of access to their elected representatives and the legislative process," Thissen said in his letter to Daudt.

Earlier this year, Minnesota House leaders opted not to find a different site to hold the 2016 session, even though the State Capitol is amidst a $272 million restoration project that won't be completed until 2017, according to the Department of Administration website.

The State Senate will convene in a large hearing room in its new office building, which is being constructed behind the Capitol and expected to be completed within the next few months.

Senate DFL leaders had offered space in the new building for the House to use. But Speaker Daudt and other Republicans in charge of that chamber declined the offer, because their party has repeatedly hammered DFLers for building the new facility.

The House's decision to hold the session in the Capitol is expected to cost the state an extra $500,000 to accommodate lawmakers by making sections of the building temporarily open. Thissen adds it will also cause inconvenience for the hundreds of construction workers on site.

The Capitol will reopen temporarily on March 1, 2016, with the new session starting a week later.

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