The public safety-judiciary conference committee on Tuesday formally passed and signed its final budget report—though not without a controversial last-second addition.
Like the Legislature’s other finance bills, the public safety omnibus was expected to bypass further negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton and be taken up on the House and Senate floors, perhaps as soon as Wednesday. Also like the other bills, it faces an almost certain veto.
An amendment introduced to the public safety bill Tuesday without public input deals with a subject not previously discussed in several weeks of conference committee hearings — a ban, effectively, on undocumented immigrants obtaining driver’s licenses.
The issue was ported over from the Real ID bill debate, a measure not heard by either the Senate Judiciary committee or the House Public Safety committee, members of which largely make up the conference committee.
The new language would freeze into statute an existing administrative rule banning the Department of Public Safety from using its rulemaking authority to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants.
While the amendment does not reference Real ID by name, it points to the section of Minnesota Administrative Rules at issue in that debate. “The commissioner is prohibited from adopting any final rule that amends, conflicts with, or has the effect of modifying requirements in Minnesota Rules, parts 7410.0100 to 7410.0800,” the amendment reads.
Part 7410.0410, Subpart 7 of the rules reads: “The department shall not issue a driver’s license permit or ID card if an individual has no lawful admission status to the United States.”
At Tuesday’s committee hearing, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, tried to tease out an explanation for the language’s insertion from committee co-chair Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center. “Is this going to affect driver’s licenses for non-documented immigrants?” Latz asked Cornish.
“More than likely, yes,” Cornish replied.
“Is that the intent?” Latz asked.
“The intent is not to let unelected bureaucrats make these decisions,” Cornish said.
Interviewed later, Cornish said it is not unusual to introduce last-minute amendments to conference committee reports without public input. He said the lack of testimony was not problematic, because Real ID has been a high-profile debate throughout the legislative session. “It’s not new to anybody,” Cornish said.
The rulemaking ban was added sometime late Monday, Cornish confirmed, but he suggested that neither he nor committee co-chair Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was responsible for injecting it into the bill.
“It came to us from other sources,” Cornish said. “That’s all I will say.”
The public safety-judiciary omnibus had already been approved in preliminary form before it was formally adopted Tuesday, 8-2, in a straight party-line vote. Latz and Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, were the no votes Tuesday.
Latz called the bill “wholly inadequate” and “disrespectful to the judiciary.” It will result in longer waits and fewer resources for citizens trying to access the court system, he said.
Hilstrom said the bill, which mostly holds departments at current base funding levels, might force Corrections to lay off between 200 and 250 employees. Commissioner Tom Roy confirmed that last week, saying that base funding is not enough money to fulfill negotiated contracts that guarantee compensation increases.
The bill could also result in the loss of 40 to 50 public defenders, and perhaps 180 Bureau of Criminal Apprehension employees, according to Hilstrom. “I think this bill is the wrong approach,” she said. “Usually I am happy to sign a conference committee report. I am disappointed that I will be unable to do that today.”
Hilstrom added that an additional 200 workers from Corrections alone could be added to the layoffs if employment caps proposed under the state government finance omnibus bill become law.
That bill, Senate File 805, caps state government employment at 31,691 full-time workers, though it directs the executive branch to prioritize retention of corrections, public safety and mental health workers. That bill passed on both the Senate and House floors late Tuesday. Dayton is expected to veto it.
Negotiations revive, then die
The same fate likely awaits the public safety and all other omnibus finance bills being sent to the chambers this week. Dayton said Tuesday he likely would veto them all in the wake of collapsed budget negotiations.
On Monday and Tuesday, Dayton submitted counteroffers on four of the smallest state finance bills — public safety, higher education, agriculture and economic development. His new public safety target sat at $210.65 million Tuesday, down from Monday’s offer of $236.5 million for that division. Overall, he cut $122 million from his original requests for the four bills.
That was too little, too late for Republicans. Rep. Jim Knoblach, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on the House floor Tuesday afternoon that Republicans had boosted their own global spending offers by $355 million during negotiations with the governor Tuesday.
Dayton responded with only marginal concessions to the same four bills had made offers on Monday, Knoblach said. It is too late in the legislative process to nibble at the budget’s edges, he added.
Republican legislative leaders late Monday decided to send a raft of conference committee reports to Dayton that reflected only their budget positions. That sent a powerful signal that negotiations might be grinding to a halt.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Tuesday morning that Monday’s late-night decision was precipitated by Dayton’s choice to limit negotiations to just four relatively minor bills.
“The four offers are too small to be considered serious,” Daudt told reporters Tuesday morning, characterizing them as “micro-steps.”
“Moving at that pace, we won’t get our work done on time,” Daudt said.
The usually imperturbable Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, also expressed frustration with Dayton. He noted that the governor planned not to be available for evening negotiating sessions this week and was heading to St. Cloud for the fishing opener over the weekend.
“We are at a place where we have to get moving,” Gazelka said. “I am very disappointed and I am very frustrated, because we can do this better.”
Dayton countered Tuesday that all budget matters could be resolved no later than Wednesday afternoon — if Republicans jettisoned the 609 policy provisions they have tucked into their finance bills and focus exclusively on budgets.
“They’re setting up this blame game,” Dayton told reporters. “I don’t think more time is our problem.”
With matters at an impasse, GOP leaders Tuesday started sending conference reports to both floors for votes, ending negotiations with the governor for now.
Dayton opposes sending conference bills directly to the chambers, saying that only eats up crucial time in long debates and will only yield vetoes.
“They should know that I will veto every one of those bills,” Dayton said in a written statement late Tuesday. “That will leave us with the same differences several days from now that we face today.”