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Conference committee looks likely for Senjem

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

ST. PAUL -- Sen. Dave Senjem hasn't been named to any conference committee yet, but people are already acting like he's got "the juice."

Other legislators approach him, trying to put in a good word for this or that project, hoping he can be of help.

Senjem, a first-term Republican from Rochester, said he hasn't been told anything officially, but "I've heard it enough to believe I'm a candidate."

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Legislators turn to conference committees to resolve differences between Senate and House bills. Each side picks three to five legislators, and the two sides try to hash out differences. A seat at the table means having influence for your constituents.

With the House having passed its package of construction projects on Tuesday, it now has to be reconciled with the one passed by the Senate last month.

Sen. Keith Langseth, a Democrat from Glyndon and chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said there is a "strong possibility" that Senjem will be one of the Senate negotiators but wouldn't say so definitively.

"He's high on my list. Let's just say I trust him, and some of the others I don't," Langseth said in referring to Republicans.

In indicating his preference for Senjem, Langseth cited Senjem's vote for last year's failed bonding bill. Senjem was one of only three Republicans to vote for the bill, which became a casualty of the last session's partisan bickering. He also referred to Senjem traveling the state and visiting colleges and universities to learn about their infrastructure needs.

Senjem's selection would be an honor for a first-term legislator. It would also put those construction projects beneficial to Rochester and southeastern Minnesota in a stronger position.

"Obviously, it doesn't hurt them any. I would say most of the projects are pretty solid," Langseth said.

Those projects include a $20 million genomic research center for the partnership between Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota; $11 million for a health science building for Rochester Community and Technical College; and $627,000 for a regional training facility for firefighters.

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The one project that is on the bubble is a $3.2 million addition to the National Volleyball Center next to Century High School. Langseth called the volleyball addition "not the highest priority," but indicated that Senjem is free to try and convince House representatives otherwise.

There also are differences in funding levels between projects in the House and Senate bills. For example, the Senate has $21.7 million for the genomics center, while the House has earmarked $20 million. Mayo and the U have asked for more than $24 million. Senjem said he would try to push the final amount closer to Mayo's request.

"We'll certainly advocate hard for southeastern Minnesota projects," Senjem said. "We want to make sure we do well in the bill and that means even those projects outside Rochester, in Winona and Austin."

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