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House passes wide-ranging, more than $1 billion state government, veterans, elections bill

A view of the House Chamber during the April 16 floor session. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Many state employees work an eight-hour day. A bill to fund those agency operations took longer, but ultimately received support from the majority of the House late Friday.

Sponsored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), HF1952 is the omnibus state government finance and elections, veterans and military affairs bill. Passed, as amended, 68-62 after more than 11 hours of debate, the bill next goes to the Senate where Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) is the sponsor.

Checking in at nearly $1.3 billion, the bill would fund the state’s constitutional offices; Legislature; many state agencies, boards and commissions; the Department of Veteran Affairs; and the Department of Military Affairs. It represents a $57.84 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.

[MORE: View the detailed spreadsheet and change items]

Nelson said the bill is not glamorous, but aims to get citizens what they need.

“Nobody does a ribbon cutting for funding government, although when things go wrong and people need help, this is where they get the help,” he said.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) said the bill should be about transparency, accountability and responsibility, but it lacks each.

“This bill is filled with bloated government budgets, while Minnesota’s small businesses and families continue to tighten their belts,” she said. “After one of the most difficult years Minnesota has seen, we continue to spend hard-earned dollars on growing government while we continue to neglect providing relief for families and small businesses.”

Rep. Michael Nelson is seen on a monitor at the back of a sparsely populated House Chamber April 16 as he presents HF1952, the omnibus state government finance and elections/veterans and military affairs bill. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The lack of bipartisanship in proposed election changes is a concern of Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), yet Rep. Emma Greenman (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors many of the election proposals, said each is good for the process.

“This strengthens voters’ hands; it strengthens and protects election judges from the rising threat of fear and violence; and it ensures that Minnesotans, not corporations or special interests, are the voices of our democracy,” she said.

Many state departments and agencies would receive a small percentage funding bump, largely to cover health care cost increases, technology upgrades and maintain current operations.

Other increases are to streamline operations, such as $4.95 million for the attorney general’s office to make further investments in critical litigation technology resources necessary in modern litigation and $2.2 million for the Department of Revenue “to coordinate, facilitate, encourage, and aid in the provision of taxpayer assistance services.”

Funding for a legislator pay raise to $48,250 annually is included. The Legislative Salary Council recommended the $1,750 increase in March, the third straight biennial increase.

Veteran health care funding would increase by 8% and the bill includes $6.3 million for the veteran homelessness initiative. Further, it would appropriate $1.65 million for an initiative to prevent veteran suicide. More than 100 Minnesota veterans die by suicide each year.

“We all have a responsibility to help those who have bravely served our nation so that they can have a bright future they deserve,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls). “As we begin emerging from the pandemic our veterans and military affairs bill lays out a vision to tackle some long-term issues impacting the wellbeing of our veterans that we’ve struggled with too long.”

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) supports the veterans’ parts, but voted against the bill. He wished the veterans’ portion could be a standalone bill, as it was for a long time.

[MORE: Omnibus state government finance bill proposes new spending, numerous elections changes, Homeless vets could get housing support through proposed omnibus bill]

More than 75 amendments were prepared to be offered; only 62 were. Of that, 12 made it on to the bill in full, and part of another.

One of those was offered by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley). It would appropriate $750,000 in fiscal year 2022 to the Office of the Legislative Auditor to create a 10-member Mass Demonstration Response Review Commission “to examine and create a public record of all actions, choices, orders, and responses by all local governments, police and military authorities, and elected officials who were crucial to the government's response to the mass demonstrations that unfolded in 2020 and 2021.” A report would need to be released by Dec. 15, 2021.

“We want to make sure that Minnesota has the ability to best understand how to address these larger concerns,” Winkler said.

Additionally, the amendment would protect the House, Senate and Legislative Coordinating Commission from having their budgets line-item vetoed by a governor.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) would require Minnesota Management and Budget to use a reverse auction — where sellers bid for the prices at which they are willing to sell their goods and services — for the procurement of a pharmacy benefit manager to manage and administer the prescription drug benefit for the State Employees Group Insurance Program.

“This will help our state and Minnesotans save on the cost of prescription drugs,” Howard said. “This has worked in other states and saved billions of dollars.”

“We should be doing this on everything the state bids for. Everything,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown).

Other amendments making it onto the bill include:

  • a person cannot be compensated for the solicitation, collection, or acceptance of absentee ballot applications from voters;
  • if coronavirus-related federal funding would cover something in the bill, the state amount allocated for that purpose would go back to the General Fund;
  • a United States or Minnesota flag can be flown over the State Capitol in honor of a police canine officer that died in the line of duty;
  • a business entity that is a sole proprietor who works at home could have their residential address omitted on the secretary of state’s website, upon request;
  • money appropriated to the State Arts Board cannot be used for projects that “promote domestic terrorism or criminal activities";
  • if state employee layoffs are necessary, personnel reductions must be made so economies outside the metropolitan area are not disproportionately affected;
  • someone charging a private electric vehicle in the State Capitol complex must pay for the electricity consumed by that vehicle; and
  • “a state agency may not enter into a contract with a vendor that produces, manufactures, or procures goods from China's Zinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region that are made using convict labor, forced labor, indentured labor under penal sanctions, or involuntary servitude.”

Not making it onto the bill were amendments related to the governor’s peacetime emergency powers, including one from Rep. Barb Haley (R-Red Wing), a second from Haley and another from Rep. Erik Mortensen (R-Shakopee). Each was ruled not germane.

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