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Minnesota Legislature

Summer’s second special session gets underway

House Speaker Melissa Hortman gavels in the second special session of 2020 July 13. Photo by Paul Battaglia

What do a bonding bill and tax cuts have in common? They’re expected to be packaged into one bill for the Legislature’s second special session of 2020, which began Monday.

As for police reform measures, both House and Senate leaders said a compromise is afoot. But it remains to be seen whether Senate Republican proposals will be considered ambitious enough for the House DFL.

And will Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue? Almost certainly so, despite the Senate’s objections.

Those are the chief upshots from day one of the session.

Its agenda is expected to be very much House-driven. With that in mind, the Senate on Monday passed a resolution calling for an end to the governor’s emergency powers and passed three bills before adjourning for the day. It plans to return Wednesday unless the House adopts a concurrent resolution to adjourn for more than three days. In that case, the Senate would be back July 20.

2020 Second Special Session: House Floor Session 7/13/20

As for a House resolution on the governor’s powers, it was referred to the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee, as was another that would declare racism a public health crisis. The committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon.

So the focus has quickly shifted to day two, when the House Ways and Means Committee has an 8 a.m. meeting with six bills on the agenda. Included among them are the capital investment (or bonding) proposal, police reform and accountability measures, a corrections and public safety funding bill, and three bills related to health and human services.

How long will the special session last?

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) said in a morning interview that he expects it will take “about a week.” In his own morning press conference, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) projected a similar length, adding that the Senate does not plan to meet again until it has some House bills to consider.

As for that bonding/tax cut combo, House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said, “If neither issue on its own has enough votes to pass, especially in the second year of a biennium, things often get combined. … It’s always been the Republicans’ position that they would not agree to a bonding bill over $1 billion unless they had tax cuts. … If we agree to provide tax cuts, they would be to individuals and families. But they favor them for businesses.”

Hortman and Gazelka both said at their Monday press conferences there will likely be a $1.5 billion capital investment bill for infrastructure and construction projects around the state, including $1.35 billion in general obligation bonds.

House DFL Media Availability 7/13/20

“We have a package of bonding and taxes that we have, for all intents and purposes, agreed to,” Gazelka said.

Will House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) and House Republicans continue to block a bonding bill – which must receive a 60% majority for approval – until the governor relinquishes his emergency powers? They did so during the June special session.

“I have respectfully asked Leader Daudt to disconnect bonding from emergency powers,” Hortman said.  

On the subject of police reform measures, Hortman said, “I am optimistic. I don’t think failure is an option on police accountability. With the murder of George Floyd, we all saw something that must be put right. We have to create an environment where law enforcement has the confidence of the people.

“George Floyd was murdered here. This is our problem. Businesses all over the world are wondering about moving to Minnesota or staying here, as are residents. This could affect the economic future of our state. I think that we will get there. But the reform that Republicans are willing to accept may not be enough. More rules and training aren’t going to bring about the change we’re seeking.”

A key sticking point between the two legislative bodies has arisen from the aftermath of Floyd’s death: How much should the state be involved in the rebuilding of sections of Minneapolis and St. Paul damaged or destroyed by arsonists and looters?

“The House passed this during the last special session,” Winkler said. “But, so far, we’ve had zero from the Senate Republicans while the other three caucuses have come to the table. … The people who are affected are not at fault. We have a history of helping people in Minnesota affected by disasters, but Senate Republicans have refused.”

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, right, confers with House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler during the first gathering of the House for the second special session of 2020. Photo by Paul Battaglia

“At this point, we’re looking at provisions for the entire state,” Gazelka said. “For example, Section 179 (tax expensing) for purchasing new equipment applies to Minneapolis.”

As for other possible bills?

“We have a $58 million spending bill from last session that is still on the table,” Gazelka said, referring to items from the governor’s proposed supplemental budget. Hortman added, “The presumption is that the June 19 agreement is still valid.”

As for the resolution to end the governor’s emergency powers that is expected to be taken up Tuesday, Hortman said, “It is grave looking at other states’ increases in cases and deaths. … They now have refrigerated morgue trucks in Texas. That could be in the future for us, so the emergency is in no respect over.”

The House also issued a proclamation honoring Joe Hintze, an electrician and communications officer in the chief clerk’s office who died July 2. A moment of silence was also observed in honor of Cody Holte, a Minnesota-born police officer in Grand Forks, N.D., who was killed in the line of duty on May 27.

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