Lawmakers scrambled this week to piece together key bills and shape an exit strategy after disregarding their self-imposed adjournment deadline of April 30th. House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) said Tuesday that doing what is in the best interest of Minnesotans superseded meeting their own deadline. The pressure is on now to meet a Constitutionally imposed session limit of 120 days per biennium. Monday, May 7th will be day 117.
House members voted on Monday to concur with Senate amendments to HF 2795, a bill authored by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska). Hoppe’s bill originated as a veterinarian measure to allow the Racing Commission some flexibility in setting equine drug standards. An amendment was added by the Senate author, Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan) that allows Canterbury Park and other horse tracks to expand the number of card-game tables and also raises betting limits. The Legislation is the result of an agreement between horse tracks and tribal casinos. Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) said the agreement is “akin to bringing the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings together”.
The Stadium Saga Continues
GOP Leaders came forward Tuesday with an alternative to the Viking’s Stadium bill that is currently sitting on the floor of the House and the Senate. Their last-minute proposal would fund $250-$300 million of the stadium’s cost through the bonding bill instead of proceeds from a lawful charitable gambling expansion. Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said the plan laid out in legislation authored by Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmount) did not have enough support from the majority caucuses because of the gaming expansion. The Speaker said the plan to use General Obligation (GO) bonding as a funding mechanism had significant support in the Republican caucus. The Legislature did not meet Wednesday, and instead used the day to determine the feasibility of bonding for a new stadium. After talks with Minnesota Management & Budget, the Vikings and other stakeholders, concluded that there were too many impediments to bring this forward as a GObonding project and the proposal was dismissed.
Governor Dayton dismissed the idea as “harebrained” and too last-minute. Dayton had originally asked that all stadium proposals be submitted by January 12 of this year. Minority Leaders Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) called on the Republican Majority to bring the existing plans to the floor for a vote. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester) and Speaker Zellers joined Rep. Dean at a press conference Thursday to announce that their last minute plan was no longer viable. Zellers said that the full House would take a vote on Monday although he doesn’t think the stadium bill will have the votes to pass in its current form.
The Senate took up SF 2321, otherwise known as Omnibus Transportation #2, on Tuesday. The bill allows for construction projects that are funded with dedicated Trunk Highway money to continue in the event of a government shut down and allows Metropolitan Council funding to suburban transit providers. A measure was added in the House to require only one license plate on the rear bumper of automobiles. The amendment, however, failed in the Senate. A Conference Committee will meet Saturday to work out the differences.
HHS Omnibus Bill
Governor Dayton signed the Omnibus Health and Human Services (HHS) Bill, on Tuesday May 1. The bill restores $18 million in cuts to HHS services that were made during the 2011 budget compromise, restores emergency medical assistance, and delays a 20-percent reduction in pay for Minnesotans employed as personal care assistants to look after a relative. HF 2294, sponsored by Rep. Jim Abler (R-Anoka) was approved by the House with an overwhelming bipartisan 128-2 vote. The companion authored by Sen. Hann (R-) passed unanimously in the Senate. Dayton said the bill is a remarkable example of bipartisan negotiation on the part of the legislature and the administration.
Dayton also signed the Omnibus Legacy Bill, on May 1. The Legacy Bill spends almost $100 million for endeavors proposed by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, including $10 million for a new invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota. The bill also provides $80,000 for public broadcasting programming to memorialize the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War and the Dakota Conflict of 1862, and $600,000 to reimburse filmmakers producing documentaries in Minnesota. In 2008, voters authorized a sales tax increase through the Legacy Constitutional Amendment. Revenues from the tax increase are directed to the clean water fund, the outdoor heritage fund, the arts and cultural heritage fund, and the parks and trails fund.
On Thursday, the Senate unsuccessfully attempted to override Governor Dayton’s veto of SF 1694, a bill to legalize the sale and use of additional kinds of fireworks in Minnesota. The measure failed after a 37-29 vote—40 votes were required to successfully overturn Dayton’s veto. Rep, John Kriesel (R-Cottage Grove) and Sen. Jungbauer (R-East Bethel) authored the bill that passed easily in both bodies (48-17 in the Senate and 77-50 in the House). Governor Dayton vetoed the bill late Saturday night. Dayton’s veto letter cited safety concerns and listed over 50 organizations in the State that had urged him not to sign the bill.
Game and Fish Bill
The Omnibus Game and Fish Bill which includes an increase in hunting and fishing license fees, establishes a wolf hunting season, and measures to combat aquatic invasive species was signed into law on Thursday. HF 2171 by was opposed by various environmental groups who say it weakens wetlands protections and oppose a wolf hunting season that concedes with the deer hunting season and weakens protections of wetlands. The bill did not include the “Mother’s Day Amendment”, an idea offered by DFL members to move the State Fishing Opener up one week to May 6 from May 12 (Mother’s Day).
Republican leaders announced early in the day on Thursday that the House and Senate had come to an agreement on a $496 million bonding bill and would be taken up on the floor in at least one body later in the day. Sen. Senjem said first that the Senate was prepared to take it up but later retracted his statement saying the legislation needed to originate in the House. The House, however, adjourned Thursday evening without taking up the bill. Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), Chair of the Capital Investment Committee said he tabled the bill after Dayton threatened another veto. The Governor was reportedly disappointed with the funding gap between the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Howes said the negotiations would continue but the overall spending bill would not exceed $496 million.
Dayton vetoed the Omnibus Tax Bill, HF 2337, Friday morning, about 12 hours after the bill was presented to him. The Governor said he made it very clear this week that he would not sign a bill that jeopardizes the future of Minnesota. “I have consistently said that tax cuts had to maintain the current budget reserve,” he said. The Omnibus Tax Bill Conference Committee Report passed this week in the House (73-52) on Tuesday and in the Senate on Thursday (41-25). Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston), Chair of the House Taxes Committee branded the bill as “Smoking’ Hot” The Legislation included $48 million in tax cuts for Fiscal Year 2012-2013 and $141 million in FY 2014-2015, a sales tax exemption for business purchasing capital equipment, and an Angel Investor Tax Credit for start-up businesses. Dayton said the Tax Bill did have some beneficial provisions and is willing to work with legislators to craft a compromise in the short time left in session that encourages job growth but “not at the expense of our future”.