This is the most frustrating part of the session for most legislators. Each chamber has passed all of its major “omnibus bills” and sent them to the other chamber, which promptly amended them beyond recognition before returning them. Conference committees are now meeting sporadically to hammer out the differences, which are massive. This year is worse than usual because, at the Senate’s insistence, the usual omnibus bills have been almost arbitrarily grouped together so that only committee chairs and committee minority leads are sitting at the table.
For example, the State Government Finance and Elections committee bill has been put together with the Transportation and Pension committees’ bills. While I would probably have been a member of a five-member House Transportation Conference Committee delegation, there is no room for me at the table on a five-member team covering three committees, so I am an outsider looking into a mostly nonpublic negotiating process. Most of these conference committees are stymied pending a high-level agreement among the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate as to how much each of these super-conference committees will be allowed to spend from the state’s budget surplus.
I serve on both the State Government committee and the Transportation committee, and I feel heavily invested in the outcome of these particular negotiations. This morning, I participated in the monthly meeting of the State’s public-private IT Technology Advisory Council, where a topic of conversation was the fact that, while the House’s State Government Finance bill includes significant funding for both strengthened cybersecurity in the face of potential Russian attacks on government IT infrastructure and a catch-up investment in upgrading the State’s core administrative systems for accounting, budgeting and payroll (which have gone over five years without updates), while the Senate’s equivalent bill appropriates nothing for these projects. These are exactly the kind of catch-up investments that the state should be making with a one time budget surplus. (Along with our education, housing, and climate priorities, of course.)
I have three bills which are included in the Transportation portion of this omnibus bill including provisions addressing transit safety; Driver and Vehicle Services process reform and financing; and creating a fair mechanism for collecting an alternative to the gas tax for electric vehicles. Janet Moore did a good job of capturing the contentious tenor of those negotiations in her StarTribune story yesterday. My sense is that this is typical of what’s happening in most conference committees.
I did have one small victory this past week. Sen. Melissa Wicklund and I were able to pass our bill that enables the Bloomington Housing & Redevelopment Agency to add two additional members to its Board in the interest of fostering diversity. The bill is on its way to the Governor.
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Thanks for the honor of representing you at the Capitol.
Representative, District 49B
Minnesota House of Representatives