Here’s the latest news from St. Paul.
The Governor called a special session on Thursday evening to start Friday morning. While some committees had hearings on their proposed bills before special session, several didn’t have hearings until after. The Health and Human Services bill didn’t even have draft language posted for members of the committee and the public to see until 4:30pm Friday – 6 and a half hours after special session began. We worked through the night to debate and pass the entire state budget, save for the Higher Education bill which passed during the regular session last Monday.
I am appalled by the disregard for normal legislative procedure shown by the House DFL. The GOP minority was kept completely out of the loop, with most bills not even being decided by members of the conference committees in charge of the budget area. If bills weren’t done by 5pm last Monday, their subject areas were taken away from the members with actual knowledge of the subject and decided by a “tribunal” made up of Governor Walz, Senate Majority Leader Gazelka, and House Speaker Hortman.
The executive branch, the governor, his commissioners and his staff, should not be writing budget bills – that is the duty and authority of the legislative branch. While the governor and commissioners are often expected to weigh in on bills, it is unprecedented for them to have ultimate authority over what goes in the bills before they are even introduced. The Governor has veto power, but there is no instance where he should be given the opportunity to that authority before bills are passed and on his desk. To take that authority and exercise veto power before most legislators have even read the bills is to usurp the power of the Legislative branch. The governor should not bully committee chairs into agreement and fill the room with his commissioners and staff. I voted no on every budget bill in protest of this process carried out under a cone of silence that offered no transparency.
Agriculture and Housing – The Agriculture portion of this bill ended up being a very bipartisan bill supporting Minnesota farmers and our agriculture community. The Housing portion was a missed opportunity when it came to addressing mandates, building codes, and other restrictions, which are a real contributor to rising home construction costs. The bill also includes $40.5 million in broadband funding for Greater Minnesota.
Environment – The Environment bill that left the House floor during session included exorbitant fee increases on every kind of watercraft and funded lots of unnecessary programs. It came back during special session with many of the unnecessary programs, but without most of the fee increases. The AIS surcharge for watercraft was raised from $5 to $10.60, but the other watercraft increases were eliminated. The new bill eliminated bad policy proposed by the DFL such as reinstating the MPCA Citizens Board, which even the MPCA did not ask for, and also banning wolf hunting statewide. There were some good new policy changes, such as funding for youth firearm safety training, grants for youth outdoor and natural resources programs, and adding three additional free “open house” days at state parks. It also included unnecessary changes such as naming a new state bee (the Rusty Patched Bumblebee), and spends almost a million dollars to plant private lawns with pollinator-friendly flowers.
Health and Human Services – The Health and Human Services bill was over 600 pages, and was only posted at 4:30pm after special session had already started. The highlights of the bill include an extension of the reinsurance program, a Republican initiative that was proven to lower healthcare costs for Minnesotans, as well as restoring the 7% cut to the Disability Waiver Rate System. Republicans also stopped the DFL’s harmful $68 million cut to nursing homes, and began to address fraud prevention and program integrity in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and other public programs.
Public Safety and Judiciary – The Public Safety and Judiciary bill that came back during special session looked very different from the one that left the House floor during session. Republicans were able to beat back all of the harmful DFL policies, including the two gun control bills which constituted an assault on every Minnesotan’s Second Amendment rights. Also removed were policies that would move Minnesota closer to becoming a sanctuary state, requiring courts to use presumptive return on recognizance instead of setting cash bail, and sending private peace officer data to outside organizations. The bill funds key public safety and judiciary programs.
Unfortunately, most of my provisions initially included in the bill, like Hannah’s law to protect underage rape victims, were removed from the bill. I am incredibly disappointed that these bipartisan, commonsense policies were removed, and I will continue to fight for victims like Hannah next session. Additional provisions that I authored which were removed included mandatory ignition interlock after the second DWI, expanding alternatives to incarceration statewide for nonviolent drug offenders (which had a 62% reduction in returning to prison), and funding for treatment of domestic abusers, were all thrown out of the bill by the tribunal.
K-12 Education – The education bill increases the school funding formula by 2% in 2020 and another 2% in 2021. It maintains the current Voluntary Pre-K slots for 2 more years, and funds the special education cross-subsidy reduction, though our school district needs more funding for that program than is given in the bill. It also includes one-time funding for Safe Schools, contingent on there being a budget surplus in November. The bill does not include the harmful policy provisions proposed by the House DFL, including the Planned Parenthood-designed sex-ed mandate, allowing convicted domestic abusers to teach in classrooms, taking disciplinary control away from teachers, and eliminating bipartisan teacher licensing reforms.
When the bill left the House floor there was funding to help Monticello’s unique special education problem, but after the tribunal ruled, nothing remained in the bill to help Monticello. This is the bitterest disappointment to me as last year, a funding fix made it all the way to the governor’s desk in the omnibus supplemental budget bill, which the governor then vetoed.
Jobs and Energy – Republicans stood strong and defeated Democrat proposals that would have created a new tax on every worker’s paycheck and raised energy costs. The most controversial policies were scrapped, including net neutrality, paid family and medical leave, and earned sick and safe time. The controversial Wage Theft language was changed to require intent before a case can be brought, and reduced the exorbitant fines by half. All controversial energy provisions were eliminated from the final bill, and provisions on energy storage and commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) were included only after there was consensus from stakeholders. The bill also included grants for Greater MN business development, childcare economic development, and dairy assistance.
Transportation – The best part of the Transportation bill is what it does NOT include – a $0.20 per gallon gas tax increase, a metro-wide sales tax increase to fund light rail transit, a Vehicle Registration tax increase, and a New Vehicle Sales Tax. The Auto Parts Sales Tax remains dedicated to funding road and bridge infrastructure, after the Democrats tried to change that to fund other areas of government. The policy change to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses was also eliminated from the bill. The bill also includes $13 million to reimburse Deputy Registrars who are in dire straits from dealing with the failed MNLARS system, and includes money to pay for a new system to replace MNLARS.
Taxes – Democrats spent the entire 2018 campaign promising to lower healthcare costs, but with this bill, they raised them by over $2 billion over the next four years. The DFL brought back a tax that was set to sunset this year, raising the cost of every healthcare procedure, doctor visit, and hospital stay. It also relies on shifts and gimmicks to increase spending in other budget areas, including transferring nearly $500 million from the budget reserve at a time when the state has over a $1 billion surplus.
State Government Finance – The final State Government Finance bill did not include any of the controversial elections provisions supported only by Democrats, which broke the longstanding precedent of only advancing elections bills that have broad bipartisan support. The bill ended up only including one elections provision pertaining to Presidential Primary ballot choice. It also increases the legislature’s funding, as well as increasing funding for some of the state’s largest agencies.
As always, if you need assistance on an issue pertaining to state government or have concerns or ideas about legislation, my office is available to you. You can e-mail at Rep.Marion.ONeill@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 357 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.