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Senate building plan loses reflecting pool, gym; passes key House committee

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After a two-month hold-up, a key House committee approved a plan for a new Senate office building – although without some of the gaudier features of the original blueprints.

The House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee voted 14-13 in favor of a new $77 million building, the Session Daily writes, down from the original number of $93 million and minus features such as a large reflecting pool out front, a giant windowed wall that would have faced the Capitol, and a fitness center.

You can see images for the new plans, as well as a bullet point list of changes, by clicking here.

The Pioneer Press says all 12 Republicans on the committee plus one Democrat voted against it. The approved plan will bounce back to the Senate Rules Committee before moving ahead toward a floor vote, the paper reports.

The new building would provide space for all of the state's 67 senators – another change from last fall's original design, MinnPost notes, in which the new building would have hosted 44 lawmakers with the remaining 23 staying put at the Capitol building.

That was a sticking point for House DFL Majority Leader Erin Murphy.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a functioning government with senators sprinkled throughout several buildings,” she said, according to MinnPost.

To fit all 67 senators in, the size of offices and conference rooms was scaled down compared to the original plan.

Republicans were unhappy with the passage, calling out the building's cost and change to parking. The original plan called for a public parking ramp, but that's been scrapped in favor of user-financed parking.

Rep. Kurt Zeller, R-Maple Grove, released a statement saying the committee's decision "showed hardworking Minnesota taxpayers that they prioritize politicians’ offices and parking over the needs of the people they represent."

"Legislative Democrats and Governor Dayton should scrap these plans and apologize to the taxpayers of the state for wasting time and good money on this monument to their own political egos," he continued.

There were reactions on Twitter as well:

The proposal for a new Senate office building has been divisive since its inception – a proposal shoved into an end-of-session tax bill in 2013.

Why is a new building being discussed in the first place? The 109-year-old Capitol Building will be undergoing a major restoration that will force senators to vacate their offices there.

The Session Daily writes some committee members against the proposal expressed skepticism that alternatives were well-vetted. The Daily notes a handful of proposals were considered – the most notable being repurposing the Ford building.

But opponents say those options weren't properly considered.

“It just astounds me the level to which the DFL is tone deaf on this issue,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, according to the Star Tribune.

Murphy, according to KSTP, called the approved proposal "the least expensive choice and best choice for the public to enjoy and utilize the State Capitol complex for the next 100 years."

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said in a statement he commends the committee its "important step" in the process of renovating the Capitol.

"There remains broad support for the long overdue restoration of Minnesota's deteriorating Capitol building, which will permanently bump many of the Senate's hearing rooms and offices out of the Capitol and into a new building across the street," Bakk said. "As the Department of Administration confirmed again today, every other feasible alternative and any further delay would be more costly, both in the short term and in the long term."

The building is currently the subject of a lawsuit, seen as the last major hurdle to passage.

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