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Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, author of the Senate’s bonding bill, speaks to reporters on May 16 after his bill failed to secure a needed supermajority vote in the upper chamber. Senjem said he had no stomach for putting together a new version, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, indicated that passing a bonding bill might still be possible. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, author of the Senate’s bonding bill, speaks to reporters on May 16 after his bill failed to secure a needed supermajority vote in the upper chamber. Senjem said he had no stomach for putting together a new version, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, indicated that passing a bonding bill might still be possible. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Lawmakers scramble to wrap up as session’s end looms

In a major development May 16, the Senate failed to muster a single DFL vote to pass the Senate’s $825 million bonding bill. That had progressives at the Capitol grousing about House DFLers’ shaky discipline—unlike DFL senators, some House Democrats voted to pass that chamber’s $825 million capital investment package.

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, the Senate bonding bill’s author, told reporters Wednesday that he had no stomach to start over. “I don’t want to put another one together,” he said.

But Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, while cautioning that time quickly was running out, held out the possibility of making another run at bonding.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Dayton carried out his promise to veto House File 4385, the tax conformity bill that the Senate placed on the governor’s desk Wednesday.

For all practical purposes the legislative session ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday—the last moment the Legislature can pass bills. If all goes well, the Legislature could adjourn sine die for the year Monday.

Here’s a quick rundown of where things stand.

Mega-bus, etc.

The Senate File 3656 conference committee that spent the week weeding out differences between the two mega-omnibus supplemental funding packages approved $10 million in appropriations Wednesday for state government’s public safety and judiciary sectors. Here’s a rundown of some of what’s in it, plus a few other items of interest.

Guardians and inmates: They agreed to fund additional guardians ad litem ($2.94 million) and to pay for fiscal year 2019’s unfunded inmate health care contract ($6.6 million). The original House bill funded only the guardians; the Senate funded only the health contract. Money for Corrections’ long-delayed electronic health record was not forthcoming.

Stays of adjudication: Several provisions related to sentencing stays were included in SF 3656, including one requiring judges to justify in writing their decision to issue stays of adjudication to sex offenders. Another GOP House priority—requiring predatory offender registration for sex offenders who receive stays of adjudication—was axed.

Agency funding: SF 3656 had almost none of the $7 million in agency budget cuts approved by the State Government Finance committee this year. A $1.4 million cut to the Human Rights Department that threatened 18 layoffs from the central office was scrubbed, as was a $3.8 Revenue Department budget cut. One cut preserved in the conference report relates to the state Auditor’s office.

State auditor: The conference committee left intact a $269,000 cut to the office of State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who unsuccessfully sued counties that hired private auditors as the Legislature decreed they could. More than half, $140,000, will reimburse Wright and Becker counties for defending against the suit.

Biomass shutdown: SF 3656 includes $40 million in grants for local suppliers to a defunct biomass fuel plant in Benson, Minnesota. The state once mandated power purchases from the plant but that stance was reversed, leading suppliers to argue the government rendered their business investments obsolete. The money—included despite objections from House Job Growth and Energy Affordability committee chair Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington—will fund claim settlements adjudicated through the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Exonerations: SF 3656 expands the definition of “exonerated” to include not only “vacated or reversed” convictions (as in existing statute), but also those “set aside.” It also changes compensation eligibility to include people who wrongly served time in “incarceration.” The existing language uses the phrase “imprisonment.”

Opioids and elder abuse: SF 3656 had just one lingering hang-up going into Thursday morning. The final Health and Human Services spreadsheet—the document showing where committee chairs agreed on the division’s funding—was still unsettled. Among other effects, that left financing for planned opioid and elder abuse prevention programs unresolved. The matter is expected to be taken up Thursday.

Court tech fee: A $2 court technology fee, slated to expire at the end of June, is extended in SF 3656 through Dec. 21, 2023. That will keep money flowing to the courts for computer systems, electronic record and filing systems, interactive video teleconferencing and other technology purchases.

Ignition interlock: The omnibus requires offenders whose licenses are revoked because of a second DWI conviction in 10 years, or third in a lifetime, to use ignition interlocks. The conference committee agreed it would spend $350,000 for increased record keeping demands between fiscal years 2019 and 2021. But it did not finance a $618,000 House request for a new judgeship next year to handle increased caseloads.

Cybersecurity: Approved just after 11 p.m. Wednesday, a last-minute cybersecurity amendment to SF 3656 prompted MMB Commissioner Myron Frans apparently to warn that its addition could torpedo the entire bill. “This is too fast, too soon and not the way we are going to wrap up this bill,” he said. Critics contend the amendment—which they had little time to review—rolls back the MNIT agency’s threat-response and IT consolidation efforts. It also requires state agencies to spend at least 3.5 percent of their budgets on cybersecurity. It appears prompted by lawmakers’ anger over the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System’s failed launch.

Veto: Dayton on Wednesday vetoed Senate File 2849, a bill that required physicians to ask patients to view an ultrasound image before getting an abortion. The bill interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, the governor said.

Freeway protesters: Boosting penalties to keep protesters off freeways has been approved both as a standalone bill (House File 390, passed by both chambers) and as part of SF 3656. Dayton has indicated he supports the concept but not a measure that curtails protesters’ free speech. It remains unknown what he plans to do with this item.

Final word: If the SF 3656 conference committee wraps Thursday as planned, its final report will go to the Senate and House floors for approval. Negotiations on its final terms would then begin with the governor. If all that works out, the bill will need final legislative passage by 11:59 p.m. Sunday night.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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