ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's not often you see the halls of the State Office Building packed with people well after the sun goes down. Hearing room 10 hit capacity; as did an upstairs press briefing room used for overflow. The House Public Safety Committee's gun legislation hearings were crowded, which was expected. The evening session brought on bills aimed at gun possession, transfer and surrender.
Two floors up, the House Ways and Means committee charged with sorting out taxes and revenue, met in front of a small crowd. "Quite happy to talk about Medicaid expansion," Longtime DFL Representative Phyllis Kahn of St. Minneapolis explained on her way in. Kahn is now serving her 21st term in the legislature. We asked her about the differences in the galleries.
"I've worked a lot of appropriations issues and it requires a lot more information for people to get riled up about them so people don't," she said with a smile.
Hamline Political Science Professor David Schultz agreed. "Even though we complain about our taxes, again, it's not emotional and it's not immediate," he explained. The gun control conversation is sweeping across the nation and the public safety hearings begin Minnesota's debate.
"That's in part why these hearings are so packed, because they're so charged with emotion. They're about values; they're about things that people get very, very upset about," Professor Schultz added.
There were piles of shirts being offered outside the hearing doors on Tuesday night. There were people peering in through windows in the upstairs, overflow room. KARE 11 found Senator Warren Limmer outside that room. "Why is the agenda focused on guns and it's not on the budget in the state of Minnesota, because that's the long range issue that's going to affect every Minnesotan for many years to come," the Republican from Maple Grove wondered.
For the time being, the right to bear arms versus public safety concerns will continue to crowd the capitol landscape. "The two are clashing in a public arena and they have a personal stake in it, that's what draws people," Senator Limmer concluded.
Lawmakers were expecting Wednesday morning hearings to draw even bigger crowds, when legislators and citizens would be discussing an assault weapons proposal along with a plan to ban high capacity magazines.
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