Six takeaways from the 2021 regular session of the Minnesota legislature

Here are six things we know – or think we know – about the just ended Regular Session of the Minnesota Legislature and what we can guess about the Special Session underway next month.

It ended pretty much as the leaders predicted

Asked about the apparent futility of two parties with such different positions agreeing on different political issues, leaders always mentioned 2019. It was the last time a budget session was held with a divided legislature and a governor. for the first term and everything. less worked.

At the start of the 2021 session, DFL House President Melissa Hortman said: “It might look and feel different, but I hope the outcome will be the same.”

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So far this has been the case. In the closing days of the regular session, Hortman, Governor Tim Walz and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka did what they did two years ago. They came to an agreement on the big spending issues and tasked the conference committees to work on the details.

Governor Tim Walz, with the budget accord in hand, leading Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman to a press conference on May 17.

Between now and whenever a special session is called – sometime before June 14, it seems – these details will be worked out, or they will not. Some will be resolved by the Big Three after the dueling committee chairs have argued their case, or they won’t.

As Hortman said, “We don’t want to solve the problems of people with bad personalities.”

At least the state government won’t shut down on July 1 after all.

Lots of things that seemed important … are gone

Would the Senate dismiss more Walz commissioners?

Could the DFL who control the House pass a bill on recreational marijuana?

Would Republicans who control the State Senate impose restrictions on voting access such as voter identification as a means of further unsubstantiated allegations of irregularities in the 2020 election?

Could the House DFL fail to hold the line against the GOP’s efforts to quash the governor’s emergency declarations?

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Would the DFL tax the rich?

Would Minnesota join other states and legalize – and profit from – sports betting?

Would the House and Senate agree to provide money for State Police and National Guard deployments around Derek Cauvin’s trial and the Brooklyn Center protests?

Members of the National Guard are seen at the Hennepin County Government Center on Tuesday.

REUTERS / Carlos Barria

Members of the National Guard are seen at the Hennepin County Government Center during Derek Chauvin’s trial.

Would lawmakers finally break the wall established by the liquor establishment and liberalize its drinking laws?

Would the DFL be able to impose changes to prevent “impostor” candidates from running under the mainstream parties as the marijuana legalization parties?

Would the GOP restrict nonprofits dedicated to bail?

Would House DFL Spend $ 457 Million To End Racism In Minnesota?

Would the Senate government make vaccine passports illegal?

Would the GOP limit contact tracing and prevent the governor from declaring states of emergency in peacetime?

No.

It was even less transparent than previous sessions (which really says something)

Any legislative body seems much more transparent than it actually is. There are a lot of public meetings and public sessions, public gatherings and public speeches. There is so much paper and so many pixels produced that no one can read it all – or really want to.

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But much of the action takes place in ways and places that are unobservable. There’s a reason the preferred return to questions about the details of a bill is, “We’re not going to negotiate in the press.”

Now embark on a global pandemic that restricted access to the State Capitol building and committee rooms in the State Office Building. Mingle in a large fence erected after threats against the Capitol after the murder of George Floyd. End with a tendency for many lawmakers to “attend” meetings from their homes. And what once looked like the opening has even lost that fig leaf.

Minnesota State Capitol

MinnPost Photo by Peter Callaghan

Minnesota State Capitol

By the time of the special session, conference committees that have morphed into “working groups” may or may not have Zoom meetings. Either way, real negotiations between committee chairs will be out of sight. And a dozen omnibus bills with hundreds of pages that include dozens of important policies will reach the House and Senate floors with just a few hours’ notice.

But at least the state government won’t shut down on July 1.

We learned what happened when lawmakers can’t ‘bargain in the press’

One of the benefits of the COVID mantle that has been thrown over open government is that the tendency of some politicians to use television cameras could no longer be satisfied. In 2019, negotiators would often come out of closed meetings and present their latest offer to reporters. The hope was that their positions would be seen as eminently reasonable and that the continued failure had to be the fault of the other side.

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Until the last week of the 2021 session, however – when more people were fully vaccinated – such media scrums did not occur. So, even though there was a tendency to complicate negotiation by negotiating in the press, there was less press for negotiating.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka

MinnPost Photo by Walker Orenstein

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaks to reporters about crafting a budget deal.

Gazelka attributed the progress made over the past few days to the decision of the Big Three – Hortman, Walz and himself – to talk to each other rather than to each other, and Hortman noted that talks go more smoothly when “the two gentlemen I work with walk away. microphones. “

Uncle Joe made it all possible

The LDF – Walz and the party lawmakers all – wanted to raise taxes for the highest paying Minnesotans and corporations. While the additional money may not be needed for this budget, it would be for future budgets – if the corresponding DFL program additions in education, equity and small business programs were passed.

The GOP said now was not the time for new spending or higher taxes – that the pandemic was severe and people needed time to overcome it.

Quite divergent positions. Then two things happened, developments which – without bringing the parties closer together – allowed both parties to get what they wanted. The first was a state and national economy which, within a year, went from recession to recovery, to such an extent that it produced a healthy surplus in the state budget forecast – at unheard of speed for such a cycle. economic.

Then two presidents signed bills that sent an unprecedented amount of money to the states. The $ 900 billion COVID relief law that President Trump signed in December has funded stimulus checks, additional PPP loans, jobless benefits and relief programs, including $ 375 million in rent assistance that Minnesota is about to spend.

Then, in March, President Biden signed the US bailout and billions more sank. Minnesota will get $ 9 billion in cash from ARP alone. And it was that money, more than any other cache of money, that allowed the GOP and DFL to declare victory last week.

President Joe Biden

REUTERS / Tom Brenner

In March, President Biden signed the US bailout and billions more sank.

There is still a lot to decide

Work done somewhere over the next few weeks will spend the money the big three have allocated to each budget area. But it will also be deciding which policies end up in the hundreds of pages of text. It is only when the invoices are released, probably only a few hours before the start of the session, that someone will know what did it and what did not.

And here’s what’s still at stake: issues of police reform, including police pretext arrests and the regulation of no-hit warrants; modernization of hate crime laws; decriminalization of fare fraud on Metro Transit buses and trains; security improvements around the State Capitol complex; extension of the historic preservation tax credit; an affordable housing tax credit for public-private housing projects; clean car emissions standards; an “exit ramp” to facilitate the transition out of the moratorium on evictions; and a bail bill to fund construction projects, including reconstruction after the 2020 riots in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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