Top Republican says major infrastructure bill still in play

    Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on May 14.

    Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Thursday expressed optimism the Legislature could pass a major infrastructure package ahead of its May 18 adjournment. 

    Gazelka said Gov. Tim Walz’s decision to let his stay-at-home order expire — allowing retail businesses to reopen and allowing gatherings of 10 or fewer — has improved the odds Republicans will support a “robust bonding bill,” which is legislative lingo for the public works package.  

    Bonding bills require support from the minority party because by law, they need a supermajority to pass and also must originate in the House. 

    House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has threatened to block a bonding bill if Walz extended his peacetime emergency, as he did Wednesday. The extension of the declaration gives Walz the power to reimpose restrictions if COVID-19 infection rates spike. 

    Gazelka said all four legislative leaders are working with the governor to ensure a bonding bill passes this week. 

    “We’re going to have a bonding bill. I’m committed to making sure we get one done,” Gazelka said. “We shouldn’t have to wait for a special session, and God willing, we won’t.”

    He added: “Bonding bills are never a guarantee.”

    In other legislative work, a $30 million bill for emergency housing assistance cleared the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, leaving a vast gulf between Senate Republicans and House DFLers who have advanced a similar measure that instead spends $100 million.

    Both bills would appropriate money to cities, counties, tribal nations and other agencies to aid those affected by the pandemic. Funding could go to assistance for rent, mortgages or utilities and would go directly to the landlord or entity owned.

    The Senate bill also prohibits landlords from terminating leases or filing for evictions for 60 days after March 24, giving Walz the ability to extend those provisions for an additional 30 days. The House bill also prohibits such actions during the peacetime emergency. 

    Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, the bill’s author, said House and Senate leadership had agreed on many language provisions in the two bills. The two different dollar amounts will be a source of further debate, he said. 

    During a House committee meeting last month, some Republican lawmakers raised concerns over the size of the bill, including Rep. Tama Theis, R-St. Cloud. 

    The Senate also passed a number of bills on the floor Thursday. 

    Laws passed include a provision allowing local governments to accept signatures electronically and a provision requiring state and local law enforcement to establish policies on eyewitness identifications. Both bills now await Walz’s signature. 

    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.
    Madeline Deninger
    Madeline Deninger is a junior at the University of Minnesota. She covers for politics and state government for Minnesota Reformer as a Kaufman Fellow. She currently serves as city editor of the university's campus newspaper, Minnesota Daily. She's also worked at WCCO-TV and American Public Media.