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Hortman: 'Very difficult to finish on time' as end of 2021 session nears

House Speaker Melissa Hortman on Wednesday expressed doubt the Legislature would be able to finish its work by next Monday's constitutional deadline, but said budget negotiations were moving ahead. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The Legislature will almost certainly need a special session to finish its work in 2021.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said Wednesday that legislative leaders are working toward agreements on the budget and policy differences that separate them, but she believes too much remains to be done for the Legislature to finish by its May 17 constitutional deadline.

“We’re coming to the last few days of session and so it will be very difficult to finish on time given the logistics involved in putting the bills together,” Hortman said during an afternoon media availability. “So even if we had an agreement on all the numbers today and all of the policy today, we are at a point where the staff wouldn’t be able to turn that into bills that we could pass by Monday.”

Hortman said talks are ongoing with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) and the governor’s office, but Monday’s news that the state will receive $2.8 billion in federal funds “reset the table in some ways.”

How that money can and should be used has added another layer to the already complex process of reaching agreement on a two-year state budget with the nation’s only divided legislature.

“I think there is a middle, and we’re getting closer to it, but there are still a number of things we have to talk about,” Hortman said.

Gov. Tim Walz echoed those comments about an hour earlier.

"There is momentum breaking loose around the numbers,” Walz said. "We got work to do, but it's moving."

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) said, in addition to the federal funding, leaders are discussing the governor’s emergency powers, police reforms and help for Minneapolis and St. Paul in the wake of last year’s civil unrest.

Hortman said her top priority is ensuring school children have the assistance needed to recover from the pandemic whether they go back to school this summer or fall and that, although the Legislature has an obligation to finish as quickly as possible, it’s also important to do a thorough job.

Because the Legislature will likely need a June special session to once again vote on the governor’s emergency powers, it may be several more weeks before lawmakers finish their business, a reality Hortman acknowledged.

“The real pressure would be on to have everything sewn up before we come back on June 14 so that we could stay in session just a few days,” she said.

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