Deena Winter at Minnesota Reformer:

Sandra Feist and Kristin Robbins sat behind a desk in a state Capitol committee hearing room, preparing to tell a panel of their colleagues about their bill requiring schools to have student cell phone policies.  They were working together on the bill despite the vast political gulf between them: Feist is an immigration attorney and progressive state representative from New Brighton who sponsors bills that would, for example, make Minnesota a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Robbins is former executive director of the Economic Club of Minnesota and a Maple Grove representative who sponsors pro-police bills aimed, for instance, at progressive Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty.

But Feist and Robbins got to know each other through the Civility Caucus, where a handful of Republicans and Democrats regularly gather and try to get beyond politics through lunches, happy hours and hot dish cookoffs. That’s how Feist and Robbins discovered they share a concern about cell phones in schools, and ended up co-sponsoring the bill (HF4581/SF4749). It requires the Minnesota School Boards Association to develop a model policy on student cell phone use by Dec. 15, and requires school boards to adopt policies by March 15. In the process, Feist and Robins forged a genuine relationship. “We really enjoy talking to each other,” Robbins said. “We both care about bipartisan relationships. It’s really about the building of relationships so you know each other as colleagues so that when it comes to the hard negotiations, you can sit down and trust each other.”

The Civility Caucus is chaired by two lawmakers from the House and Senate, one Republican and one Democrat: This session, the House chairs are Robbins and Feist, and Senate chairs are Republican Zach Duckworth and Democrat Grant Hauschild.  Feist is a lawyer, but not oppositional: She likes to turn the temperature down. It hit her one day while leaving the Capitol: All those lawmakers riding the elevator and getting in cars to go home were her coworkers. It reminded her of the Looney Tunes characters Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog, who clocked in for work each day, fought like hell, and then amicably clocked out and went home.