With less than three weeks left in the current legislative session, lawmakers called for police reform and accountability legislation to be the priority; during a press conference on April 29, Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota lawmakers came together to urge the state Senate to take action on police reform and accountability legislation. Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) was the only Republican to join Democrats in calling for lawmakers to come together on the issue.
Ewald at the Capitol
Governor’s Emergency Powers
On April 14, 2021, Gov. Walz extended the state’s peacetime emergency for another 30 days to quickly help the state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to the extension of the governor’s emergency powers, Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) in the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee made a motion to suspend the rules and have HF101 brought up on the House floor; the bill would ask voters in the 2022 election if the state’s constitution should be amended to cap the peacetime emergency period at seven days unless the House and Senate vote to allow a 30-day emergency declaration.
Budget Bill Movement
With the Easter/Passover Break in the rearview mirror, House and Senate Finance Committees aggressively began work to put together funding bills that will make up two proposed state budgets — one from the House and one from the Senate.
The House DFL budget, totaling $52.52 billion, includes significant increases in funding for E-12 education and childcare; support for those who have been most impacted by COVID-19 (students, families, and small businesses); and investments to improve economic security, including paid family leave, earned sick and safe time, affordable housing, and worker protection and support.
House DFL Budget Targets
On Tuesday (March 23), House DFL leaders released the framework and targets for their budget proposal. The House DFL budget priorities include significant increases in funding for E-12 education and childcare; support for those who have been most impacted by COVID-19: students, families, and small businesses; and investments to improve economic security, including paid family leave, earned sick and safe time, affordable housing, and worker protection and support.
House DFL Committee Targets:
- Education: $20.810 billion. $721.7 million increase from base.
- Early Childhood: $715.785 million. $50 million increase from base.
- Higher Education: $3.526 billion. $120 million increase from base.
- Housing: $145.596 million. $30 million increase from base.
- Workforce & Business Development: $285.322 million. $56.992 million increase from base.
Senate Republicans Announce Budget Targets
This week, Senate Republicans announced their intention to pass a $51.9 billion two-year state budget. Their proposal includes $591 million in tax relief on Paycheck Protection Program loans, tax relief for unemployment benefits, and no proposed tax increases. While most specific details are not yet available, other measures include a 5 percent cut to state government administrative costs, $100 million for unemployment due to the pandemic and $40 million for broadband expansion, among others. The Senate budget does not include one-time federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Shifting School Calendars?
A year of the pandemic has created colossal shifts in how school districts deliver public education and many lessons have been learned. Although it has been rocky, school districts now realize that distance learning has helped some students excel and has provided more opportunities to offer expanded programming for students.
Senate Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Tax Relief
On Tuesday, SF263 (Bakk), a bill aimed to protect Minnesota business loan recipients, was expanded by the Senate Tax Committee to include a provision that would assist workers who received an extra $600 in unemployment aid during the pandemic; a provision that would carry a cost of $30 million to $50 million, according to Senate nonpartisan staff research. There is also discussion around adding a provision that would add money from federal aid to help school districts expand summer school for students who have fallen behind during the pandemic.
February Budget and Economic Forecast
Twice a year, the office of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) releases a state budget and economic forecast that projects the overall fiscal stability of the state over the next biennium. After continued projections for a budget shortfall for the FY 2022-23 biennium, the February forecast now shows a $1.6 billion surplus, versus the $1.27 billion deficit that was previously anticipated. The increased forecast is attributed to an improved U.S. economic outlook, federal pandemic relief legislation and lower state spending.
Read more: Walz Bonding Bill Proposal, SF 1, Continued Operation of Businesses during the COVID-19 Pandemic, more
Dials Turned and Peacetime Emergency
A new round of modified COVID-19 regulations went into effect last weekend. They include:
- 50 percent capacity, no more than 250 patrons maximum for indoor and outdoor dining. The dining curfew has been extended to 11 p.m.
- 25 percent capacity, no more than 250 patrons maximum for indoor entertainment venues such as museums and movie theaters.
- Receptions and private events can operate at 25 percent capacity, no more than 50 people maximum. The 11 p.m. dining curfew also applies to receptions and events where food is served.
- Gyms, fitness studios and pools may operate at 25 percent capacity, 250 people maximum.
Gov. Walz has also renewed the peacetime emergency for another 30 days.
Hybrid Meetings Begin
The Senate held their first hybrid committee hearings this week. It was the first time this session when multiple senators were in the same room for a hearing. While the Senate is moving to this hybrid model, legislators, lobbyists and the public will continue to have a virtual option to participate in the committee hearing process.
The House continues to reiterate its intention to remain completely virtual. The different approaches magnify the differences in how the House and Senate view the pandemic and will likely lead to an increased debate over a potential Mask Mandate Bill.