The second year of the 89th Session of the Minnesota Legislature began Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Only 10 weeks remain in the brief legislative session. This first week of session highlighted the significant partisan divide with House and Senate floor sessions spent in heated debate over issues pertaining to unemployment benefits for Iron Range miners and a new Senate Environment and Energy Budget Committee.
Capitol renovations have inconvenienced legislators, members of the public and media. Both the House and Senate have arranged viewing rooms in their respective office buildings for members of the public and observers to watch floor sessions via live-stream video, since the chambers both have limited accessibility.
Governor Mark Dayton gave his sixth state of the state address on Wednesday at the University of Minnesota. He highlighted his agenda for the legislative session, citing his chief priority as fiscal stability, followed by addressing transportation needs, racial disparities and environmental concerns.
Iron Range Unemployment
The only legislation that was discussed in floor session this week were the House and Senate bills (HF2032, SF1006) to address Iron Range unemployment. The bills provide an unemployment benefit extension for those Iron Range workers affected by layoffs. In the House, Republicans attached an unemployment insurance tax cut provision to the bill, which Democrats unsuccessfully fought against in an intense debate on the first day of session. In the Senate, members approved a bill which exclusively provides an unemployment benefit extension, after the Republican Senate members failed to attach the tax cut provision that mirrored the House provision. The bills will have to be resolved in conference committee.
Another issue receiving early attention is compliance with federal Real ID requirements affecting drivers’ licenses. An interim joint Legislative Working Group provided base language, and now each body is working through bills that will first repeal the ban on planning to implement Real ID, then take action to pass policies in compliance with the federal requirement. A bill was introduced by Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) but has not been formally heard in a House committee. In a Senate Transportation and Public Safety hearing, Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) championed language to address Real ID (SF1646). The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both sides of the aisle believe this is a top priority for this session, though members have expressed significant concerns about data privacy.
Conference Committees: Taxes and Transportation
To address the unfinished business from last year’s session, both chambers appointed conferees who will work to resolve the Omnibus Tax and Transportation bills. In Tax and Transportation Committee hearings this week, tax issues pertaining to historic structures and taxes on broadband and Internet equipment were discussed. Transportation has been touted as a top priority by legislators and Governor Dayton, but there are significant differences over the sources of new funding and the inclusion of new funds for transit.
Family Leave — A Senate bill addressing paid family and medical leave benefits (SF2558) was introduced this week. The proposed law would establish a state insurance program administered by the Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development that would pay employees 55 percent to 80 percent of their average weekly wage (depending on income level) for up to 12 weeks per year for pregnancy— to care for a newborn child, for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member who has a serious health condition. The program would be funded by wage-based taxes paid by all taxpaying employers under the state’s unemployment insurance program and by all employees employed by such employers.
Currently, only three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — have similar paid family and medical leave laws. The bill has been referred to the State and Local Government Committee. A companion House bill has not been introduced.
Governor’s Supplemental Budget — Governor Dayton plans to release his supplemental budget on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. The Governor has promised that supplemental funding will be proposed to address the racial income gap. His plan may also include funding for universal preschool for 4-year-olds that stalled last session.
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