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Session adjourns with new funding, tax conformity hanging in the balance

Night falls on the State Capitol May 20 in the waning hours of the 2018 session. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Remember February? The days were shorter, colder and lawmakers prioritized conforming Minnesota’s tax code with a December federal overhaul, patching MNLARS, groups were jockeying for capital investment money and, at the end of that month – 12 weeks ago – the administration announced the state had a projected extra $329 million in the bank.

Fast-forward to Sunday, the final day of the 90th legislative session, which ended at 11:48 p.m., shortly after the House approved a pensions-related bill. But most of the day, Republican legislators and the governor spent going back and forth at each other in the media.

Early Sunday morning, the House passed a massive omnibus supplemental spending package. Then, around 4 p.m. Sunday, the House, in a second attempt within a week, passed a tax conformity bill that included special education funding requested by Gov. Mark Dayton. With minutes remaining before the constitutional deadline, the House passed a $1.4 billion capital investment bill and sent it to the governor.

“We’re excited, obviously,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) told the media after adjourning the 2018 session sine die. “A very successful session, passing all the big bills we had promised and delivered for Minnesotans in all the ways we said we would.”

WATCH House Republican leaders on the 2018 session

Dayton told the media he would veto the tax and supplemental budget bills.

“It’s been a debacle,” Dayton said a few hours earlier. “But it’s been a debacle of their creation.”

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said the Republicans, who control the House with a 76-57 majority, bowed to “corporate interests” and failed to address a number of issues, from battling opioids to helping correct elder abuse. Those topics, Daudt countered, are included in the omnibus supplemental budget bill.

“Our job is not to pass bills,” Hortman said. “Our job is to get bills signed into law, and the governor plays a role in that process.”

 

Here’s what they accomplished

Despite coming into a session with no operating budget, the Legislature passed a law appropriating $128 million for its own operating budget after the state Supreme Court sided with Dayton in a lawsuit over a 2017 veto.

Everyone agreed that MNLARS, the state’s beleaguered vehicle license and registration system, needed funding to fix it, but opinions differed on how much should go into it. Dayton signed a law giving the Department of Public Safety $9.65 million to maintain the system – although the governor initially wanted much more for an overhaul.

Almost all lawmakers agreed that misrepresenting service animals should be a crime and that law enforcement needs to learn more about any connections between pornography and sex trafficking. Hotel staff will be required to receive training in spotting sex trafficking, too, under a law that gained widespread support.

WATCH House minority leader on the 2018 session 

Speaking of law enforcement, the House passed bills that would bar local governments from disarming police officers and increase penalties for assaulting cops. The Senate, however, never took a vote on those bills.

The Legislature approved a state employee contracts bill, ratifying contracts between the state and a number of employee bargaining units.

“We got our work done,” Daudt said as the clock neared midnight. “We believe these are good bills that the governor should sign, and we’re optimistic that he will.”

 

Here’s what didn’t get done

Heading into the final day, Dayton had used his veto pen seven times this session, blocking House- and Senate-passed legislation that ranged across topics from abortion to water permit fees. But there were other proposals that remained just that – proposals.

“This Republican legislative majority has shown they’re very good at ignoring the governor, they’re very good at fighting with the governor,” Hortman told the chamber during the tax bill debate. “What they haven’t shown is any aptitude at all in listening to the governor or compromising with the governor.

“If this session ends in a heap of nothing, it will be because this Republican majority didn’t listen to the governor,” she said.

Despite mounting public pressure on altering firearm laws, the Republican-controlled House never voted on a pair of bills that would require gun-buyer background checks or prohibit someone from possessing a firearm if they pose a “significant danger” to themselves or others.

A bill that would give judges more discretion in sexual harassment cases died on the House Floor, even after two legislators – one from each chamber – resigned in the face of harassment allegations.

University of Minnesota students won’t see a tuition freeze after a bill that would appropriate $10 million to the school for relief didn’t get very far.


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