Notes from the Capitol – Update on the legislative session

Below is a legislative update from GMNP Executive Director Dan Dorman:

It’s been an interesting few days at the Capitol. While the “regular” legislative session ended at midnight on Monday, by last Friday it had already become clear that there would need to be a special session in order for the Legislature to complete its work. Given the frequency of them in the last 20 years, perhaps they should change the name to a “not-so-special special session.”

Late last week the Minnesota Senate put in motion bills that would have provided base funding to avoid a state government shutdown, but most people saw this as something for the end of June (the state budget begins July 1st so that is when a shutdown would occur). At the time it seemed like the Senate was signaling that budget negotiations between Governor Walz, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka were hopelessly stalled.

However, Sunday afternoon brought the surprising word that a budget agreement had been reached. This news brought a jolt of optimism to the Capitol. There was talk of openness and groups working in public to fashion the final details of the various budget bills. Conference committees were given budget targets and the hope was that many, if not all, of them would be able to wrap up either before midnight Monday or in a one-day special session later this week.

A few committees were able to meet Monday’s deadline. The higher education bill passed both bodies and is now headed to the Governor’s desk. The opioid bill also passed last night. That debate provided some very emotional and compelling reasons for the bill. Here is a link to a Star Tribune article on the legislation that puts in place a license fee for companies selling opioids in Minnesota.

The agriculture and housing finance bill (which contained $40 million in broadband funding) passed in the Senate, but the House was unable to pass the bill before the clock reached midnight.

All of the other conference committees were instructed to complete as much work as they could and then turn their work product over to Sen. Gazelka, Speaker Hortman and Governor Walz, who would then finish the work. It was not really a surprise to anyone who regularly follows the legislative process that the promise of openness disappeared.

As of now, there is still no definitive word on when the Governor will call a special session. There has been talk of holding a one- or two-day special session later this week, but such a short session would require suspending the Legislature’s normal procedural rules, which some legislators may not support. There appears to be a desire by many legislators to wrap things up before the long Memorial Day weekend, but it’s hard to say whether that will be possible given how many bills remain up in the air — including the jobs and bonding bills, which deal with many of the GMNP’s top priorities.

Can they get it done this week? I hope so, but there are some warning signs. The global budget agreement reduces the 2% health care provider tax, but eliminates the sunset of the tax. This may present an obstacle in the Republican-controlled Senate, as many Republicans remain strongly opposed to continuing the provider tax. I suspect the Senate DFL will, and understandably so, not vote for the bill unless the Senate Republicans put up the 34 votes needed to pass it. And with only 35 Republican members this could spell trouble.

There also appears to be some resistance among House Republicans to passing a bonding bill this year even through a $500 million bonding bill was included as in the Governor/Hortman/Gazelka agreement. Although the Republicans are in the minority in the House, bonding bills require a supermajority to pass, which means it will need both GOP and DFL votes in both bodies.

As activity at the Capitol drags on, we will continue to work hard to advocate for our GMNP members and the issues that are important to you such as child care, bonding, broadband and others.