The Potluck

Legislature counting on June special session to resume unfinished business

By: - May 18, 2020 2:02 pm

Photo courtesy of Minnesota History Center.

Gov. Tim Walz and lawmakers said Monday they are returning next month for a special legislative session after adjourning Sunday night with a long list of unfinished business. 

Despite an auspicious start to the session, which saw early bipartisan success on the state’s pandemic emergency response, as well as deals reached on emergency insulin and COVID-19 workers compensation claims, legislative leaders failed to reach a deal on a number of other items by the end of Sunday night’s deadline. 

Walz said Monday in a conference call with reporters and DFL legislative leaders he is considering a June 12 special session for lawmakers to return to St. Paul and approve a major infrastructure bill to help spur the economy.

That infrastructure bill, known around the Capitol as the “bonding” bill, was to be the centerpiece of the Legislature’s final days of work in an attempt to invest in local public works projects that would also aim to help an ailing construction industry. 

As the legislative session unfolded in the pandemic, Walz faced growing Republican unease with his emergency powers. They repeatedly attempted to pass legislation to curb his executive powers and force his administrations to reopen businesses, but the DFL-controlled House blocked many of those efforts.

Senate Republicans pursued legislative oversight of spending for the state’s pandemic response, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he would not support a major borrowing package for infrastructure as long as Walz’s peacetime emergency declaration is in effect. 

Walz expressed disappointment in the legislative inaction: “My disappointment (is) that the bonding bill apparently became victim to an unrelated demand. (It) simply isn’t the way to get this done,” he said Monday. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, criticized House Republicans, saying they stood in the way of local projects by blocking the bonding bill, which requires support from both parties because it uses borrowed money. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, suggested that the lack of in-person negotiations impeded the progress of a number of bills, including the bonding bill. 

The Senate failed to advance a $998 billion bonding bill, which Democrats criticized is insufficient to meet the need of capital improvement projects throughout the state. 

Also left unfinished were proposals to provide housing assistance to renters and homeowners, as well as the deferral of tax payments for small businesses sought by Republicans. 

“The tax delay and waiving of penalties piece is what I’m particularly disappointed in,” Gazelka said Monday. “The housing portion I do believe we will get done in the end.” 

Some confusion remained over other aspects of the Legislature’s work over the weekend. 

Senate Republicans pushed through legislation that modifies state labor contracts to undo a planned 2.5% pay raises in July, but leaves in place raises and benefit changes negotiated for the first year of the two-year labor contract. Republicans would restore raises in July 2021 if the state budget swings back to surplus. 

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said Monday that legal counsel is reviewing whether the Senate’s action effectively ratified the contracts. He said under state law, the Legislature can only approve or reject the contracts — not modify them. 

Gazelka disputed that interpretation, raising the prospect of legal action if the administration moves to implement the contracts this summer. 

Frans said his agency would announce a decision within “a day or so.” 

 

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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