Minnesota legislature adjourns regular session ‘in a whimper’

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The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Hill Capitol Strategies in Minnesota.

After nearly six months of committee hearings, floor sessions, long debates and a modern-day record of bill introductions, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, “the Session ended in a whimper.” 

On Sunday, with less than 30 hours left before the constitutionally mandated end of the 2019 Legislative Session, the House, Senate, and Governor came to a budget agreement and global budget targets.  In a normal year, conference committees at that point in a session would have already resolved many of their policy differences and come to tenuous agreements on many of the provisions within each bill. However, this year’s general stalemate between the DFL Governor, DFL House and GOP Senate was too difficult to overcome. 

When the Constitutionally mandated deadline was reached at midnight Monday, the Minnesota Senate had passed two of the ten budget bills necessary to fully fund state government.  The House, like the Senate was able pass the Higher Education Omnibus Finance Bill and send the bill to the Governor. However, the House was unable to pass the Agriculture and Housing Omnibus Finance Bill before the midnight deadline.  This means most of the state government remains unfunded, the Legislature must pass the budget prior to July 1st, which is the start of the new biennium.  

For a session which started with bipartisan commitments to greater transparency, new deadlines intended to help move the budget process along and talk of easy early legislative wins, this session will likely go down as one of the least transparent sessions in the modern history of the state.  The late agreement of budget targets led to a final day of closed-door negotiations between members of the Legislature and the Walz Administration.  

Only two budget conference committees were able to meet a 5 pm Monday deadline to complete their work.  The failure of the remaining 8 Conference Committees resulted in what can only be described as individual budget tribunals involving the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House and the individual conference committee chairs.  It was suggested Leadership and the Governor would use these meetings to resolve any outstanding issues and close-up the budget bills. However, it doesn’t appear as though these meetings resulted in any final agreements.  

As it stands, larger bills, like the more than 1000-page Health and Human Services Omnibus Finance Bill and the Tax Omnibus Bill, must still be negotiated.  Numerous controversial policy provisions remain undecided in virtually every budget bill. While Conference Committee reports cannot be amended when heard on the floor of the House and Senate, during a Special Session the slate is wiped clean, and every bill must be reintroduced before being put to a vote. 

It is unclear as to exactly when the Governor will call a Special Session, House and Senate Leadership have both mentioned a possible one-day Session on Thursday, May 23rd. However, in order to complete their work quickly, the minority party in both bodies must agree to provide the votes necessary to suspend the rules and process legislation.  It appears unlikely the House Minority Leader is willing to help the House DFL pass the budget, especially given his exclusion from any of the budget negotiations. It does not appear one day will be enough to settle all the outstanding differences.