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Along party lines, nearly $1 billion omnibus state government bill gets committee approval

Some call it necessary, others were not as thrilled.

In the end, the omnibus state government finance and elections bill received committee approval Wednesday.

Sponsored, by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) HF1952, including a delete-all amendment, calls for a nearly $999.76 million in net General Fund spending in the upcoming biennium that begins July 1, 2021, a $34.5 million increase over current base level and $500,000 more than the budget proposed by Gov. Tim Walz for the 2022-23 biennium. It also contains myriad elections changes and some alterations directed at state and local government operations.

The House State Government Finance and Elections Committee, which Nelson chairs, approved the plan on an 8-5 party-line vote and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Among its provisions, the bill would:

  • establish procedures for automatic voter registration when applying for a driver’s license or state identification card;
  • restore the right to vote to individuals convicted of a felony once they are released from incarceration;
  • create a Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity;
  • direct Minnesota Management and Budget to contract with a qualified auditor to conduct an annual audit of the state’s use of federal grant funds, something managed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor since 1983;
  • provide funds for sensory accessibility accommodation modifications for public spaces;
  • repeal the compensation limit for political subdivision employees: and
  • allow a city or town to adopt an ordinance requiring hotels to have a municipal hotel license that requires compliance with state and local laws.

Two amendments were added before the committee vote: one that fixes technical errors and another that would temporarily permit raffle ticket purchase by debit card or check if the purchaser initiates contact via telephone. Hoping to aid organizations like a VFW or church group during the pandemic, it would expire July 1, 2022.

[MORE: View the detailed spreadsheet and change items]

In addition to finding it “troubling” that potential election changes continue to get away from the tradition of being approved on a bipartisan basis, Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) said some proposed agency spending increases are larger than previous years.

“Many businesses themselves are trying to recover — they don’t have a cost-of-living increase, the can’t give employees raises, they can’t continue to rent various facilities and buildings — and they wake up each morning with the daunting task of finding a way to make their business survive another day,” Nash said. “That’s their reality. The reality we see here is that state government is being bloated to grow again under the auspices ... that we have to have more revenue so that we can do more things for Minnesotans.”

Nelson countered the committee target included the cost of raises and health care for state employees, but the bill needs “to slim down some of the governor’s requests” for other things.

“We tried to do this judiciously so that we can continue to operate as a government to provide the services to our state residents so they can live their lives and do the things they have to do and get the things from government that they expect,” Nelson said.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter was one of three commissioners who spoke in support of the bill.

“We’re pleased that the House bill takes the governor recommendations to increase the operating budget of state agencies,” Schowalter said. “This provides agencies necessary funding for projected growth in employee compensation and rising IT costs. Additionally, these funds will allow agencies to maintain current operations and ensure there are not reductions in services.”

Sponsored by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), the Senate omnibus bill, SF1831, awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.


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