The end of the legislative session looms with a little over two weeks for the Minnesota Legislature to pass the state’s biennial budget. Wednesday marked the first of three leadership-imposed deadlines aimed at keeping the Legislature on track for a timely end to the session. Under an agreement between Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) and Governor Tim Walz (DFL), both the House and Senate were required to pass their omnibus finance bills off the floor by May 1. Both bodies managed to successfully cross the first hurdle and now our attention turns to Monday, May 6, when the three leaders said they would have agreed upon joint budget targets for the conference committees.
Conference Committees Appointed
A divided legislature means conference committees will have their work cut out for them, as they need to resolve significant differences in every omnibus bill and report back to the house of origin just one week after receiving their targets. Both House and Senate leadership said this week that they remain dedicated to meeting their deadlines and bringing session to a timely closure. This aspiration relies heavily on successful negotiations between the leaders agreeing on joint budget targets. In the remaining weeks of session, members will spend a significant amount of their time in both conference committee meetings and private negotiations.
The Health and Human Services, Taxes, and Jobs conference committees all had their first hearing on Friday, May 3. The rest will begin on Monday.
Senate Floor Action on Omnibus Bills
This week, the Senate passed the remaining four budget bills which had been previously passed in the House. These included the Jobs and Energy Bill, the E-12 Education Bill, the Health and Human Services Bill and the Tax Bill.
- Omnibus Jobs & Energy Bill: HF 2208, authored by Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), includes uniform labor standards, wage theft, reforms to various programs including CIP and solar gardens, and creates a biomass compensation account to support businesses impacted by changes to 2017 energy regulations. The Senate did not include Paid Family Leave or Earned Sick and Safe Time in their bill. The Senate passed its version of the bill 40-26.
- Omnibus E-12 Education Bill: HF 2400, authored by Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), funds 4,000 voluntary pre-k seats and creates an early learning scholarship account with a permanent annual appropriation of $950,000. The bill prohibits programs disqualified from CCAP from receiving early learning scholarships. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version does not fulfill the Governor’s request for an increase in the General Education Formula of 3% in the first year and 2% in the second year, instead increasing the formula by a more modest 0.5% in the first year and 0.5% in the second year. The bill passed on a vote of 37-30.
- Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill: HF 2414, authored by Sen. Michele Benson (R-Ham Lake), invests $15 billion general fund dollars in Health and Human Services. In a major departure from the Governor’s recommendation and the House budget, the Senate bill allows for the sunset of the 2% provider tax, revenue from which is dedicated to the Health Care Access Fund and the Senate does not include a path to the OneCare public option as proposed by Governor Walz. Other provisions in the bill include a redesign of CCAP and provisions related to elder care, prescription drug costs, and mental health care. Debate on the bill kept Senators until nearly 3 a.m. on Wednesday after which it was passed on a vote of 36-28.
- Omnibus Tax Bill: HF 2125, authored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), includes conformity with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), lowering the second tier income tax rate, providing businesses with property tax relief and increasing the subtraction for social security. The bill was passed with bipartisan support on a vote of 39-28.
House Floor Action on Omnibus Bills
The House finished their work on budget bills on Tuesday. This week it passed the Omnibus Agriculture and Housing Bill, the Environment Bill, the E-12 Education Bill, the Higher Education Bill, the Judiciary and Public Safety Bill and the State Government Bill.
- Omnibus Agriculture and Housing Finance Bill: SF 2226, authored by Rep. Poppe (DFL-Austin), increases funding for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by 4.5% with a biennial appropriation of $110 million and appropriates $131.5 million for the Housing Finance Agency. There are provisions to allow for industrial hemp farming, enhance penalties for pesticide damage to state recreational lands, and extend the sunset on the Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council by five years. The bill passed on a vote of 99-28.
- Omnibus Environment Finance Bill: SF 2314, authored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), makes numerous appropriations to various agencies including $636.8 million for the Department of Natural Resources, $208 million for the Pollution Control Agency, and $9.14 million for the Metropolitan Council for metropolitan area regional parks. The bill also establishes a state bee, bans the use of flame retardants containing Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and creates a carpet stewardship program in an effort to reduce landfill deposits. The bill passed on a vote of 73-60.
- Omnibus Higher Education Finance Bill: SF 2415, authored by Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton) fully funds a tuition freeze at Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota. The House Higher Education budget comes in at $3.57 billion for the biennium and appropriates $396.7 million to the state grant program. Other appropriations include provisions to address student homelessness, food insecurity, and mental illness on college and university campuses. The bill was passed on a vote of 72-57.
- Omnibus Judiciary and Public Safety Finance Bill: SF 802, authored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) appropriates $2.79 billion to the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections, and the Judiciary Branch. Unlike the Senate’s bill, the House version contains two highly controversial provisions aimed at enhancing gun safety: Extreme Risk Protection Orders and expanded background checks. These provisions elicited extensive and passionate debate on both sides of the aisle. In the end, the bill passed on Wednesday with a vote of 70-64.
- Omnibus State Government Finance Bill: SF 2227, authored by Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL- Brooklyn Park) appropriates $1.2 billion in General Fund dollars to various state government expenditures such as legislator salaries, Minnesota IT services, and the 2020 census, among others. The bill was passed on a vote of 73-58.
- May 6, 2019 – Fiscal Targets Given to Finance Bill Conference Committees
- May 13, 2019 – Conference Committee Reports Due to Original Body
- May 20, 2019 – Last Day of the Legislative Session