I apologize in advance for the length of the letter below, but I wanted to update you on the many nuances of our recent special session, which ended in frustration early Saturday morning.
The legislature was called into special session on Friday, June 12th due to the Governor extending his emergency powers for another 30 days. Under law, a governor must call the legislature into session whenever his/her emergency powers are extended to give the legislature the opportunity to deny that extension. While a bipartisan majority in the Senate voted to end the Governor's unilateral decision making, the Minnesota House DFL majority did not, meaning the extension continues.
While in special session, lawmakers were expected to address several topics, including a bonding bill, the distribution of federal COVID funds to local units of government, and police accountability. After a week of discussions, talks broke down and both the House and Senate adjourned.
Small Business Grants Bill Passed
A plan passed by both bodies was approved that will provide grants (rather than loans) to small businesses that were forced to close due to Governor Walz' executive orders. The bill provides $30 million in grants for Greater Minnesota and $30 million for the metro area. Each awarded grant will be up to $10,000. Applications will be accepted by DEED until July 2, after which grantees will be selected by lottery. To apply, click here.
Police Accountability Legislation
There were a number of law enforcement accountability provisions brought forward that an overwhelming majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported, including proposals like bans on chokeholds and requiring officers to step in if a fellow officer is using excessive force on a suspect. There were also more extreme provisions proposed by some, such as dismantling police departments and felon voting. In the end, none of the provisions came to fruition.
This is one thing that frustrates me greatly about the progression of legislation at the Capitol. If we are talking about a topic that is multi-faceted - and police accountability certainly belongs in that category - then why don't we immediately approve the provisions where nearly all of us agree, and then begin working on the more contentious or controversial items? Doing so would show the public that we take the issue seriously and that we are working together to find consensus. Far too often the two sides adopt an "all or nothing" approach, which in this case sadly led to a "nothing" result.
COVID-19 Funding for Counties, Cities, and Towns
The federal CARES Act has allocated approximately $841 million for COVID-19 funding to be distributed to Minnesota counties, cities, and towns. Though Minneapolis and St. Paul have already received federal COVID funding through separate distributions, the rest of Minnesota's local governments have not. This funding is desperately needed and will help pay for local government programs related to COVID-19 testing, COVID-19 response for hospitals, PPE for front-line workers, financial support to local businesses, and other additional expenses.
I was very proud of the bipartisan work that knit together a final compromise CARES Act bill which was agreed upon by all four (majority and minority) legislative caucuses in the House and Senate. The bill passed almost unanimously in the Senate but sadly came to a screeching halt in the House when the Governor’s roughly $300 million in unrelated spending proposals was amended onto the bill at the last minute. I was extremely disappointed by the scuttling of this agreement. Because of this, the bipartisan plan ultimately failed.
This was very frustrating and is a perfect example of why I have been pushing legislation that requires bills to have only a single subject. In my opinion, the Governor’s spending proposals should have come as a separate bill and not forced onto an unrelated bill. Though I do not agree with additional state spending right now due to the looming billions of dollars in deficit that we are facing, I would certainly have been willing to look at his proposals and we could have determined if some were emergencies that needed immediate funding. However, these proposals should never have been amended onto an already agreed upon bill. Because they were, it took down our county and city federal funding.
Next Special Session
The next special session is scheduled for July 12th. Until then we will continue to work on all these issues, including the bonding bill. Hopefully, we can focus on working together to find common ground and agreement before the next special session is called.
Have a great week!