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Compromise on elections proposals, other measures needed as House, Senate start negotiations on omnibus state government bill

A voter returns her ballot to the Minneapolis Early Voting Center in October 2020. Photo by Paul Battaglia

There will need to be a lot of compromising about elections changes before conferees cast their votes.

Provisions about who can vote, and where, and how ballots are tabulated are some of the differences between HF1952*/SF1831, the House and Senate omnibus state government finance bills.

Also to be resolved are spending and policy dissimilarities throughout state government, a few local government issues and some potential military and veterans affairs changes.

Conferees began their work Monday with the traditional fiscal and policy overview of each proposal. Some public testimony was also taken. The group plans to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday for additional public testimony.

Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), the bill sponsors, note conferees will need a budgetary target from legislative leaders before financial resolutions begin.

The House version checks in at nearly $1.22 billion for the 2022-23 biennium, $96.4 million below the Senate proposal.

[MORE: View the detailed spreadsheet, change items]

Among the fiscal differences is the House provides small operating adjustments for many state agencies, boards and councils; the Senate reduces base appropriations for most agencies and keeps board and council funding at current levels.

Elections

The House bill has 13 elections provisions not in the Senate bill, and six Senate provisions are not in the House bill.

House-only provisions include:

  • establishing a process for automatic voter registration when a person applies for a driver’s license, instruction permit or state identification card;
  • restoration of the right to vote when a felon is released from incarceration;
  • civil and criminal remedies for voter intimidation, interference and deceptive practices;
  • prohibiting compensation for an individual collecting absentee ballot applications; and
  • recognizing a medical bill as proof of residency for Election Day voter registration.

“Changes like automatic voter registration and restoration take us forward,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon. “It’s my hope that members here today can agree on one thing, and that is that voting is a sacred and fundamental right that all eligible voters should be able to access regardless of race or ethnicity or economic circumstances or geographical location.”

Among the Senate provisions not in the House bill are: people who register to vote on Election Day would cast a provisional ballot, and if deemed eligible to vote when their registration is processed within a week, the vote will be accepted; requiring voters whose registration status is challenged to cast challenged ballots; a political subdivision could not adopt or use ranked-choice voting for local offices; and the secretary of state and public officials would be prohibited from spending public funds to promote or defeat a ballot question.

Conference Committee on HF1952

[MORE: Check out campaign finance, elections administration comparisons]

Both bills would allow a non-campaign disbursement for security expenses at a candidate’s address, but the spending cap differs as does whether immediate family members should be included.

State government policy

The House and Senate agree in general that a Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity should be established, Aug. 15 should annually be designated as “India Day,” users of electric vehicle charging stations in the Capitol Complex should pay for electricity consumed by the vehicle, and a Capitol Flag program should be established to provide a U.S. and Minnesota flag flown at the Capitol to families of public safety officers killed in the line of duty and military members who die in active service.

[MORE: Side-by-side looks at state government appropriations, state government policy, information technology]

Among the House-only provisions are:

  • codification of an executive order to recognize the legal relationship between the state and tribal nations;
  • establishment of a working group to make recommendations for creating a racial equity impact note for proposed legislation;
  • creation of an office of environmental sustainability to assist state agencies in making progress on sustainability of government operations;
  • people would be given access to residential buildings to conduct the decennial census;
  • temporary use of check or debit card to by a raffle ticket when doing so by telephone; and
  • elimination of the state employee gainsharing program.

Senate-only provisions include:

  • legislative approval would be required to extend a peacetime emergency beyond 30 days;
  • limiting growth in state employment based on population growth;
  • establish a fund to pay off bonds used to finance construction of U.S. Bank Stadium;
  • eliminate the Board of Cosmetology and move its responsibilities to the Health Department; and
  • placing the state on year-round daylight saving time after federal law permits the change.

Jim Schowalter, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, raised several concerns with the Senate ideas, including the potential peacetime emergency change.

“The administration looks forward to working with the Legislature to develop thoughtful modifications, but simply limiting the governor’s ability to declare an emergency does not achieve that end.”

Other commissioners reiterated their desire for full support of the governor’s budget recommendations or, at worst, provide funding to maintain existing service levels.

Local government

There are no Senate comparables, but the House bill includes language that would:

  • allow the Metropolitan Council and local governing entities to establish inflow and infiltration prevention programs to make loans or grants to private property owners;
  • repeal the compensation limit for political subdivision employees:
  • allow a city or town to adopt an ordinance requiring hotels to have a municipal hotel license — maximum of $100 — which requires compliance with state and local laws; and
  • let Duluth and Rochester require a park dedication fee on new housing units and new commercial and industrial development or a "reasonable portion of land" be dedicated to the public for public parks.

Veterans and military affairs

Similarities between the bills include establishment of a veterans’ stable housing initiative; tweaks to Veterans and Suicide Prevention Awareness Day; and creation of an alternative-sentencing option for veterans with service-connected trauma, substance abuse or mental health conditions who commit certain crimes.

House-only provisions include allowing military attorneys who are not members of the state bar to practice law and serve as military judges under certain circumstances, and changes to military trial procedures, sentences and punishment.

[MORE: Side-by-side look at military and veterans affairs section]


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