ST. PAUL-The Minnesota Legislature has left the building.
Lawmakers started their traditional Easter-Passover break on Good Friday, set to return on April 9 with a lot left to do.
Most of the record 8,207 bills they introduced last year and this year never will even see a committee hearing (last year's bills remain available for action this year). But in the time left before the May 21 mandatory adjournment date, lawmakers will be busy.
First, a look back. The short session started Feb. 20 and it did not take long to pass legislation funding the Legislature, after Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the money last year.
Also done is a down payment on fixing the trouble-plagued vehicle registration and license system, known as MNLARS. Lawmakers passed, and Dayton signed, a bill spending $10 million to help fix the computer system that has caused the issues. More than $30 million still may be needed to finish the fix.
State worker contracts have also been approved.
There has been a lot of talk so far this session, but the Legislature usually saves the best, or the most important, for last. So expect to see most action in May.
While the even-numbered years often are dominated by funding public works projects, that likely will take a back seat to taxes.
It is not exactly the common argument about cutting or raising taxes, although that certainly will be there. The debate mostly will be couched in terms of how much Minnesota matches new federal tax law. Much of the discussion will be how the state can best lower taxes for people.
Tax experts are going through the massive federal law and determining whether taxes will go up, down or stay the same if Minnesota law matches federal law for each provision.
So far, Democrat Dayton has emphasized lowering taxes for middle- and low-income people. In many cases, Dayton would let business taxes rise.
Republicans who control the Legislature are looking at how businesses would be affected, with an emphasis on lowering taxes on businesses under the theory that then they could expand or pay workers more.
Republicans and Democrats agree on many of the proposals to make schools safer, but the GOP appears to still be standing firm against making any significant gun-related changes. Democrats are frustrated they cannot get gun bills considered in committees, but since Republicans control all committees and probably will not support gun control, it may not matter if gun legislation actually is debated. Regardless, guns will be discussed, whether in or out of committees.
It is unclear how much child care legislation could pass. Since most improvements need money, Minnesotans will know more once House and Senate leaders release their "targets"-how much each finance committee can spend.
Without a full budget to write this year, one would think that there would not be much state financing discussion. One would be wrong.
With more than $300 million available to tweak the existing $46 billion, two-year budget, there will be plenty of fighting in April and May to decide who gets the scraps.
Nitrogen splits panel
Legislative agriculture committees are known for being bipartisan, but a controversial Dayton administration plan came between Republicans and Democrats on the House Agriculture Policy Committee.
Committee Chairman Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, brought up a bill that would ban the state Agriculture Department from adopting mandatory rules governing nitrogen fertilizer without legislative approval.
Fellow Republicans supported Anderson, but Democrats voted against the bill many of them otherwise supported.
Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, originally brought up the nitrogen ban provision, saying such a directive should come in a law, not a rule.
Westrom wants higher limits
Sen. Torrey Westrom again is trying to raise some speed limits.
The Elbow Lake Republican has an initiative in the mix this year that would allow counties to post speed limits higher than 55 miles per hour on their roads. Now, motorists can drive faster than 55 only on some state roads.
Chairman Bill LaValley of the Grant County commission said local officials should decide such things. "That should be up to local control ... so we can take care of the needs of our public."
Westrom has been among the voices in past years to allow speed limits to rise on state roads.
Legislative veto pricey
Dayton's veto of legislative funding and the Legislature's unsuccessful battle to negate it is costing the state more than $750,000.
Minnesota Public Radio reported that the Legislature is paying $400,000 to its private attorneys who argued the case. The outside firm Dayton hired charged a bit less.
Dayton vetoed the Legislature's $130 million budget last May in an attempt to get Republican leaders to return to the negotiating table. The tactic did not work, but courts allowed the veto to stand.