Welcome to the ‘season of disappointments’ — where bills make it (or don’t) at Minnesota Capitol – Austin Daily Herald

Welcome to the ‘season of disappointments’ — where bills make it (or don’t) at Minnesota Capitol

Published 7:19 am Monday, April 15, 2024

By Dana Ferguson

Minnesota lawmakers will near a key deadline this week before the final sprint of the legislative session.

Friday marks the third legislative deadline, which means that any bill with a state spending component has to move through key finance committees in each chamber.

The funnel is the latest reckoning for the massive stack of bills at the Capitol.

“We are in a season of disappointments,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in describing this point in the 2024 session. “And there are those bills that just won’t make it.”

Policy bills have been moving and had their deadlines already. But this week marks the time to get budget touch-up bills and others with a price tag through committee so they’re ready for floor votes in the last five weeks of session. There are workarounds for late breaking bills; tardy proposals need a special accommodation from an extra committee in either chamber.

But ahead of the filter, here’s a look at some of the measures expected to make it and others on the cusp.

What’s on the fence?

As lawmakers move a raft of supplemental budget bills through committees, some DFL priorities are getting thrown overboard due to financial constraints.

DFL lawmakers had proposed adding a public option to MinnesotaCare — the state’s health insurance program for low-income people. But last week they said they don’t expect to move forward with that this year due to the hit to the state budget.

Leaders have also said that the so-called “Missing Middle” bill that would bar local governments from blocking some higher-density housing due to zoning restrictions would not advance.

“I think it’s an intriguing policy proposal whose time has not yet come in Minnesota,” Horman told reporters earlier this month.

Other plans might have to get scaled back to meet the realities of the state’s finances.

DFLers came in with proposals to require coverage of various kinds of health care services — from prosthetics to abortion, to in-vitro fertilization to wigs for cancer patients. And legislative leaders said they’re running the numbers on which of those services the state can afford this year.

Plans to boost subsidies for families to cover the cost of child care could also be shrunk down from initial proposals, as could a proposed pilot program to provide universal basic income to low-income Minnesotans.

Legislative leaders have been trying to moderate expectations with their caucuses and groups that have come to the Capitol asking for money. After a significant spending year last year, Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said she’s reminding folks that it’s not a budget year.

“In the second year of the biennium, there are often supplemental budgets but they’re not the same size or scale of what we do in a budget year,” Murphy said. “And it is important, I think, to remember that we made a significant move on child care last year and we’re going to continue to build on that both with policy and in setting the budget next year.”

A proposal to legalize sports betting in Minnesota has a roughly 50-50 shot this year, Hortman said. DFL lawmakers have also worked quickly to pass a bill that would block proposed historical horse racing bets.

In the works

After the Minneapolis City Council last week approved an extension for the rollout of their ordinance governing rideshare driver pay and protections, DFL leaders said they’re still at work on a statewide policy.

Legislative leaders and Walz administration officials said they’d been working behind the scenes with Minneapolis city officials, rideshare companies, drivers and others to try and work out a plan that everyone can get behind.

DFL leaders said it helps to have that buffer since Minneapolis voted to pause implementation of their ordinance until July. That’ll give the Legislature until their mid-May adjournment deadline to reach consensus.

“I think that will give us more time to work together,” House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, told MPR News. “We’re, I think, all moving in the same direction.”

Top lawmakers said they’re still working on a capital investment bill — the one approving a package of construction projects — expected to add up to $980 million or more. State and local governments put in more than $7 billion in requests for road and bridge repairs, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, local recreation centers and more.

“There are deep needs across the state; people have made lots of requests. We won’t meet all those requests. We never do,” Murphy told MPR News’ Morning Edition last week.

Republicans have unique leverage in discussions about capital investment because their votes are needed to let the state take on debt to fund projects. Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said his caucus is prioritizing local projects — especially those that deal with roads, bridges and water treatment.

Others might have to wait, he said, since the state passed a $2.6 billion package last year.

“Those dollars are still going out into communities,” Johnson said. “So our caucus is being very, very careful on what projects are going to go into this new bill.”

Lawmakers have until May 20 to wrap up their business.

MPR News reporter Clay Masters contributed to this reporting.

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