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Divided panel approves omnibus state government bill that DFLers deem critical, GOP pillories as pork

(House Photography file photo)

DFLers say changes are necessary to better operate state government, but Republicans say a bill to do so is also laden with pork.

And to the surprise of no one, Thursday’s 8-5 vote by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee fell along party lines.

Sponsored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), HF4293, including a delete-all amendment and a technical amendment, is the omnibus state government finance and elections bill. Its next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee.

“The biggest expense in here is upgrading our technology to help prevent some cybersecurity attacks that are going on every day,” Nelson said.

The bill calls for $77 million in supplemental spending, including more than $35.6 million for MN.IT Services technology upgrades and cybersecurity purposes, and $7.29 million for Minnesota Management and Budget to stabilize and sustain the state’s enterprise resource planning systems

“We’ve not been keeping up with the updates. We’re in danger, in some cases, of falling out of compliance with our maintenance agreements because we’re so far behind in applying upgrades and patches,” said Rep. Steve Elkins (DFL-Bloomington).

[MORE: View the initial spreadsheet]

Republicans note the state budget is already set through June 30, 2023.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) said emergency needs should be addressed, but this bill is “bloating government.” Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) called the proposal “porcine,” and Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) said it would continue to grow the “big Goliath of government.”

[MORE: Detailed story of bill unveiling]

Acknowledging there are bill positives, some Republicans rhetorically asked why the DFL wants to grow government at a time Minnesota businesses face a tax increase because refilling the unemployment insurance trust fund has yet to be resolved by the House.

“That is a stark message. It is unbelievably tone deaf of you. I am ashamed that this is actually even happening, and I think you should be too,” Nash said while unsuccessfully offering an amendment to strip out much of the spending. “You haven’t done squat for the job creators, business owners in the state.”

“UI is not part of this committee,” Nelson said.

Other amendments not making the bill include: the so-called “Minnesota Elections Integrity Act” that would include photo identification to vote and provisional balloting; allowing organizations authorized by the Gambling Control Board to sell raffle tickets via telephone to a person who initiates the communication; prohibit the Legislature from conducting a vote if the public cannot observe the vote in person; and ensuring ballots are fully reconciled before a canvassing board certifies an election. Like the Nash amendment, all went down along party lines.

Among its provisions the bill would:

  • allow the governor to declare a peacetime emergency for a cyberattack on the state's information and telecommunications technology infrastructure, systems or services;
  • designate Juneteenth, June 19, as a state holiday;
  • create a commission charged with designing a new state flag and seal;
  • create a Legislative Task Force on Aging;
  • provide for a study of unique issues facing small state government agencies;
  • adopt a number of recommendations of the Advisory Task Force on State Employment and Retention of Employees with Disabilities;
  • modify and expand certain requirements related to the use of absentee ballot drop boxes; and
  • require private organizations mailing absentee ballot applications or sample ballots to include several notifications, including “THIS IS AN ABSENTEE BALLOT APPLICATION, NOT AN OFFICIAL BALLOT” and “THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL COMMUNICATION FROM A UNIT OF GOVERNMENT” on the outside of the mailing.

Sponsored by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), the Senate omnibus bill, SF3975, has just $10 million in proposed General Fund spending. It awaits action by the full Senate.

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