What Did — and Didn’t — Get Done at the Minnesota Capitol This Legislative Session

Legislators left plenty of work on the table as they negotiate a possible special session.

Minnesota legislators worked until their midnight Sunday deadline to pass key pieces of a sweeping global agreement to spend billions on public safety, education and other programs over the next three years while cutting billion of dollars in taxes.

In the swirl of late-night negotiations and votes, some of their priorities got done — but many did not.

Legislators are negotiating with Gov. Tim Walz about the possibility of a short special session to tackle some of the items they didn’t get to before their deadline to adjourn. Some prefer waiting until next year to spend the remainder of the state’s projected nearly $9.3 billion budget surplus.

Here is what legislators did manage to get done this session, and what they left on the table:

What got done

Hero pay: After nearly a year of negotiations, legislators struck a deal in late April to spend $500 million on checks to workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Roughly 667,000 workers will be eligible for checks of up to $750.

Unemployment insurance: A historic level of requests drained a state unemployment insurance fund during the pandemic. The divided Legislature agreed to spend $2.7 billion to cover federal debt and replenish the fund, staving off payroll tax hikes on businesses.

Reinsurance: Fearing rate hikes as a time when costs are already high for Minnesotans, legislators agreed in March to extend the state’s so-called reinsurance program for three years, spending more than $700 million to help insurers cover the costs of the most expensive claims on the individual insurance marketplace.

Liquor: Legislators agreed in May to lift a production cap that has prohibited the state’s biggest breweries from selling beer to-go in growlers. The deal also allows small breweries to sell cans and distilleries to sell one full-sized bottle per day per customer to take home.

Broadband: State leaders will spend $50 million over the next three years to expand high-speed internet access through a border-to-border broadband grant program. Minnesota is also using federal dollars for broadband development, with $60.7 million from the American Rescue Plan and $100 million in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act cash.

Drought relief: Legislators passed a drought relief package, something farmers had been waiting for since last summer. The spending includes more than $8 million in grants to livestock and specialty crop producers, $5 million for tree planting and $2.5 million to the Rural Finance Authority’s disaster loan account.

ALS research: Spurred by Sen. David Tomassoni’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, legislators devoted $20 million to research grants to try to cure ALS or improve the lives of people with the disease. The state is also spending $5 million on caregivers.

Mental health: In the final minutes of the session, legislators passed a mental health bill. Some key provisions include the creation of a process for people who are found incompetent to stand trial, as well as increased funding for mental health provider loan forgiveness and mental health programs connected to schools and youth shelters.

Student data privacy: A last-minute deal struck by the Legislature would crack down on how tech companies can use student data and prohibit them from setting that information to marketing companies.

Opioid settlement: The two parties sent a bill to Walz to create a framework for distributing about $300 million the state is receiving as part of a settlement with opioid distributors and manufacturers.

Legacy: The House and Senate cleared package this year that spends $159 million for outdoor conservation and restoration, which will be distributed to projects across the state in 2023.

Southwest LRT audit: All sides agreed early in session to spend $200,000 for the Legislative Auditor’s Office to review the troubled Southwest light-rail project. The agreement also requires the Metropolitan Council to provide status updates on the project twice a year to legislators.

Structured settlements: After a Star Tribune investigation showed how companies prey upon catastrophic accident victims who get settlement payments, state leaders moved to protect people by becoming the only state to require the appointment of an outside attorney to advise on the sale of structured settlement payments.

Veterans funding: In early May, the House and Senate agreed to spend tens of millions to fund veterans homes and cemeteries, bonuses for military service and efforts to end veteran homelessness in the state.

What did not get done

Tax cuts: Despite striking a historic deal to use the state’s surplus to cut $4 billion in taxes — including the elimination of state taxes on Social Security income — the plan was held up in the final hours of session along with spending packages. The deal did not include direct rebate “Walz checks,” a top priority for the governor.

Education funding: Contentious disagreements between the two parties over funding for student mental health, special education and literacy programs kept them from striking a final deal for more than $1 billion for classrooms over the next three years.

Public safety: One of the top stated priorities for all state leaders entering the year, public safety proved to again be one of thorniest policy areas to try to work out. As lawmakers sailed past the deadline to pass legislation this session, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, described the House and Senate as still “pretty far apart” on funding dedicated to law enforcement versus community nonprofits.

Infrastructure: Top negotiators included $1.4 billion for public infrastructure construction projects in their end-of-session deal framework, which ultimately fell apart. About $400 million would have gone toward local projects, said Senate Capital Investment Chairman Tom Bakk, noting they had also planned to spend $150 million in cash. Legislators also wanted to designate matching funds to ensure they could access federal infrastructure dollars, but they failed to do so.

Health care: Top leaders agreed to spend $1 billion on health care over the next three years, but House and Senate negotiators couldn’t settle on how much of that total to devote to pay raises for workers in long-term care, group home employees, personal care assistants and more. Pay raises were a top priority for Senate Republicans in the midst of a long-term care staffing crisis.

Sports betting: Though a bipartisan group of legislators in both chambers was hopeful that this would be the year sports betting becomes legal in Minnesota, those hopes were dashed in the session’s final weeks. The House approved a bill that would legalize in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and online gaming through vendors that the tribes oversee. The Senate proposal would have included the same provisions, while also allowing betting at the state’s two racetracks.

Housing: House Democrats and Walz headed into the session hoping to put hundreds of millions of dollars toward adding affordable housing and keeping people housed as evictions climbed. Senate Republicans wanted some spending to expand homeownership and hoped to block cities’ rent control measures. They could not reach a deal.

(Star Tribune)

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