ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers returned to the Capitol Friday, May 24, to finish a $48 billion state spending plan but tension over rushing the process stalled their work.
After leaving the bulk of the work of finishing a budget undone late Monday night when they adjourned the regular legislative session, legislative leaders and the governor hoped the Legislature could wrap up in a one-day special session.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Gov. Tim Walz called for the special session Thursday evening after spending the week holed up in a room at the Capitol where they ironed out spending bills for various areas of state government.
And they agreed to keep amendments to a minimum and only to take up a slate of spending bills. Hortman said lawmakers missed their deadline and had a responsibility to promptly finish up a budget bill.
"We're in overtime," Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said. "We need to finish up that overtime and get a win for the people of Minnesota."
But that promised to take longer than expected after minority leaders were left out of conversations and an agreement outlining the terms for the legislative session between legislative leaders and the governor.
"Our members have made reasonable requests and we think it's reasonable that we just get to read the bills and understand the bills and comprehend what's in them," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "It would be very difficult for us to say we're going to take up and pass bills in a 24-hour period that we haven't even seen yet."
Hortman said if the minority sunk a vote to suspend the rules to take up the spending bills in one day, rather than requiring a three-day wait, lawmakers would spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday working to wrap up a state spending plan. In the Senate, it appeared Gazelka had reached a deal with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, to keep the debates constrained to one day.
“It’s my hope that we get it done today or tonight or by 7 a.m. tomorrow morning,” Gazelka said. “In the end, the bills are baked and it’s time to do some passing.”
The Senate unanimously approved a catch-all agriculture, housing and broadband bill, which would boost funding for border-to-border broadband development, grow farm and rural mental health resources, provide up to $5 million in assistance and relief grants to dairy farmers and put forth one-time funds for an industrial hemp pilot program.
The body also approved bills that would fund outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage programs, environment and natural resources, state government, public safety and judiciary on Friday afternoon.
The House took up and passed agriculture, transportation and outdoor heritage proposals Friday late afternoon after Republican leaders said their members had enough time to read the bills. The bills move now to the governor's desk for his approval.
Senators planned to return later in the evening to finish passing the bills. House Republicans said they'd push to get more of their priorities included in the final bills but seemed to slowly come around to considering the proposals.
"The minority parties realize there's no appetite for making substantial changes and so having the process drag out longer doesn't really serve any purpose," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said. "Sometime between now and 7 a.m. I think we'll be done."
Daudt, the former House speaker, said he was negotiating to improve the legislative process in the future, and requires Democratic leaders to agree to changes before he would allow remaining budget bills to be fast-tracked.
“We are frustrated by the lack of transparency,” Daudt said just before 10 p.m. Monday.
The only bill that could come up yet this year that he said he is negotiating is one to fund state construction projects, legislation known as the bonding bill.
But he said that he did not think that a deal could be reached on a bonding bill before a planned 7 a.m. adjournment. Some of Daudt’s Republicans would need to vote for a bonding measure for it to reach the supermajority needed to pass.
Some lobbyists said they expected bonding projects to be tacked onto another bill.
Democrats look ahead to 2020 after priorities fall out
After several of their legislative priorities were shot down or cast aside by the Republican-led Senate, House Democrats committed to making their pitch to Minnesota voters ahead of the 2020 election.
Winkler said House Democrats presented an "ambitious and far-reaching agenda" this year including requiring paid family leave for workers, allowing immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, restricting access to firearms, providing additional workplace protections against sexual harassment and funding emergency insulin supplies for uninsured diabetics.
“We feel like we’ve made some progress this year and we marked out where we want to go in the future,” Winkler told reporters. “We believe that next session and the next two years and four years we have an opportunity to make tremendous progress for Minnesotans and we’re not going to stop until we do it.”
The emergency insulin proposal fell through the cracks in a late-night negotiation over a massive state health and human services bill in the early hours on Thursday. Hortman said DFL lawmakers wouldn't pick up the proposal again in special session.
"At a certain point, we ran out of time to fight anymore on the issues we care about," Hortman said.
Republican leaders said they'd succeeded this session in blocking DFL-proposed tax hike on gasoline, blocking a pair of gun control bills and decreasing the tax on medical providers by 10%.