A session that began three months ago has largely been boiled down to, well, a large bill that doesn’t appear to have gubernatorial support.
In the middle of the night — 2:31 a.m. — the House passed the conference committee report on the omnibus supplemental budget bill 76-49. It was passed 35-32 by the Senate just before 12:30 a.m.
“It spends about $76 million this year, primarily on education, health and human services, public safety and broadband, plus another $58 million on transportation, primarily roads and bridges,” said Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud). He co-chaired the conference committee on HF4099/SF3656* with Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center).
About five hours before the Senate passage, Gov. Mark Dayton indicated he’d veto the supplemental funding and tax bills. The governor sent conferees a list of 117 objections he had with the supplemental budget bill. Knoblach said 71 items to change or delete language were resolved.
“We met the governor much more than halfway,” said House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers). “Even though the House and Senate felt very, very strongly about those provisions, because the governor had concerns and because we know the things that are in the bill are very important to Minnesotans, we were willing to make those compromises.”
“The governor doesn’t have to take the bad along with the good,” said House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park). “If we would like to save the good work that’s been done this legislative session this conference committee report should go back to the conference committee, broken into pieces, and then we can pass those pieces where we have broad bipartisan support and agreement with the governor and make sure those provisions become law.”
With the Legislature constitutionally having to finish its work by midnight Sunday, Knoblach said Hortman’s plan “is, frankly, not practical.”
The report was posted on the House website at 7:09 p.m. Saturday, leading a number of DFLers to question the lack of time given to understand all that is included.
“When we have a thousand page bill on the House Floor the last night that’s just truly not manageable,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL-Crystal). “There was no way this evening that I could go through that bill.”
Here’s the spreadsheet and a look at some of what is in the 989-page conference committee report:
After the conference committee removed the most controversial agriculture provision of the bill Friday, which would have required legislative approval of a proposed nitrogen rule, it now contains a variety of measures that have mostly bipartisan support.
They include a $217,000 increase for statewide mental health counseling services for farm families and businesses that would help fund an additional counselor position – making two statewide, and another $30,000 for the Farm Advocates program.
The bill also contains $35 million for the Rural Finance Authority, which works with local lenders to offer a number of loan programs to help those looking to get their start in agriculture along with established farmers who may need to refinance or make other substantial capital investments. That funding is also traveling in HF4425.
The conference committee report appropriates nearly $28 million to school safety in Fiscal Year 2019.
Of that, $19.9 million would be allocated to safe schools revenue, with an additional $5 million for school-linked mental health grants, $1 million for physical security audit grants, $250,000 for school resource officer training and $150,000 for threat assessment team training.
Key policy provisions that made it into the final report include enhanced civics education, the creation of a special education working group and provisions prohibiting school lunch shaming.
Several measures that Dayton objects to remain, including a requirement that the Department of Education develop a summative-rating system to measure school districts and schools, as well as a provision to that would permit school boards to prominently display a poster, framed copy or mounted plaque of the national motto, “In God We Trust.”
The conference committee cut a number of environmental and natural resource provisions the governor outlined as “problematic.” Chief among those is a measure that would repeal the state’s 45-year-old rice water quality standard. The bill the provision was incorporated from, HF3280, was vetoed by Dayton last week.
Another provision that would have prohibited the Pollution Control Agency from increasing water permit fees without legislative approval was removed. In total, the committee removed or amended eight of the 10 policy provisions Dayton said must be cut.
The environmental articles in the bill are policy-heavy and would pose no impact to the General Fund in the 2018-19 and 2020-21 biennia. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) said the $2.9 million that would be expended from the natural resources fund is largely the result of a one-time forestry account shuffle and various expenses toward all-terrain vehicle trails.
The committee agreed to provide $1.3 million to research and address chronic wasting disease, raising both the House and Senate’s initial appropriations to closer match the governor’s $1.56 million proposal.
Health and Human Services
“This bill restores the 7 percent cut for employees who care for the disabled,” Peppin said. “If you think that’s a crisis, too, I hope you’ll vote for this bill.”
The health and human services also addresses two of this session’s highest-profile issues: opioids and eldercare. The report includes numerous provisions in both areas.
The opioids provisions include: $16 million to fight abuse, a prohibition on dispensing opioids more than 30 days after a prescription is written; a requirement that the Board of Pharmacy submit a report on annual trends in opioid prescribing; creation of opioid response account for grants to fight the problem; funding for three new drug scientists at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; and limitations on the amount of opioids that can be prescribed during visits to emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and other short-term situations.
“We’re putting together a program with community paramedics that will reach out to people that end up in an ER room and brought back to life with Narcan,” said Rep. Dave Baker (R-Wilmar). “Right now there is no way to really capture these folks and give them a chance and pull them into treatment or give them medicine that would give them a chance to get off these horrible drugs.”
The eldercare provisions include: allowing funding of a case management system for the Office of Health Facility Complaints and requiring the office to update the Legislature periodically on how and what it’s doing; a clarification that electronic monitoring – cameras in the room of loved ones – would be allowed; adding eight additional ombudsmen for consumers across the state to help resolve complaints; stiffening penalties for abuse; and creating a task force to examine crimes against vulnerable adults and punishments.
But Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) said the bill did not do enough in either area. She said the opioids section did not hold “Big Pharma” accountable for the crisis and the resources it devotes to fight the problems are not adequate. With regards to eldercare, she said action must be taken, “but instead we’re going to choose to study the problem a little bit more.”
Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth) said the bill falls “woefully short” in helping the elderly and vulnerable adults and urged “the Republican majority to get serious” about doing more.
Higher education provisions within the conference committee report make up one of the smaller and less controversial sections of the supplemental funding omnibus bill.
The compromise language provides an increase of $4 million, with $3.5 million going to the Minnesota State system. Of that, $3 million would be appropriated for campus support and $500,000 for renewal of workforce development scholarships. The remaining $500,000 would be disbursed by the Office of Higher Education for specific grant and loan forgiveness programs.
Policy provisions were included that would require the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota to establish an advisory council on rare diseases to provide advice on research, diagnosis, treatment and education related to rare diseases. Additionally, it makes minor modifications to the university’s regent selection process by clarifying the role of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council and expanding the Legislature’s oversight of it.
Jobs, Energy, and Housing
The conference committee report includes numerous changes to the jobs, energy and housing articles (articles five-18 and 27) in the omnibus supplemental budget bill in an effort to align the proposal more closely with what the governor wants.
Among the items the conference committee removed from the articles is language that would have created a new minimum wage category for tipped employees. This provision was one of the more talked about and controversial items in these sections, and was among the 18 provisions in the jobs area the governor opposes.
However, the conference committee didn’t remove all the provisions the governor mentioned. They include language that would:
Other provisions in the bill would establish and appropriate money to the Prairie Island Indian Community to develop a net zero energy system and appropriate $15 million to bring high-speed broadband internet to more Minnesotans through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.
These articles also include numerous changes to unemployment insurance advisory council and workers compensation statutes, as well as manufactured and modular home policy.
The public safety agreement includes $10 million in additional funding, of which $6.6 million is designated to the Department of Corrections to cover the department’s health care contract. The department sought $7.8 million, a number the governor put forth in his supplemental budget.
Other proposed spending includes $2.94 million for the Guardian ad Litem program in Fiscal Year 2019 to help comply with state and federal mandates to represent the best interests of children in juvenile and family court proceedings.
Policy provisions in the agreement include:
The biggest winner in the state government finance sections is the Office of the Secretary of State, which would receive exactly what it asked for: a $1.5 million increase to modernize and secure voting systems.
From there, Republicans prioritized requiring state agencies to dedicate 3.5 percent of their budgets to cybersecurity and ensuring the forthcoming Legislative Budget Office can carry out work currently designated to the administration.
The report, which previously written would’ve erased licensing fees for eyelash extension technicians (now not included), would exempt hair braiders from registering the Board of Cosmetology and would require the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission to bid for a Nordic World Cup Ski Championship.
The state auditor’s office would see a $269,094 spending reduction -- the only spending cut in this section -- and Minnesota Management and Budget would be given an additional $140,000 to reimburse Becker and Wright counties for a lawsuit State Auditor Rebecca Otto lost in testing the constitutionality of a 2015 law.
Minnesota’s roads and bridges are the beneficiaries of extra funds under the conference report — but far less than the House had originally proposed.
Under the agreement, the bill would spend an additional $57.7 million from the General Fund on the state’s transportation infrastructure in Fiscal Year 2019. That’s down from more than $100 million in supplemental funding that had been included in the House bill.
That spending would include:
More than $200 million in trunk highway bonding that had been included in the House version was stripped out and included in the omnibus capital investment bill.
— House Public Information Services staff Mike Cook, Jonathan Mohr, Jonathan Avise, Ricky Campbell, Rachel Kats, Michael Strasburg and Melissa Turtinen contributed to this story.