Minnesota Legislative Update: Tobacco, Gun Safety Bills Advance

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Legislators kept busy this week both at and away from the Capitol. Committees continued processing policy bills, staying mindful of the first policy committee deadline scheduling three weeks away. The House held an extra floor session to expedite passage of their top legislative priorities. On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, the Legislature took a short break so legislators could attend precinct caucuses. On Thursday the state released its February economic forecast. This forecast, which projects a slight increase in the state’s budget surplus to $1.5 billion, is the starting point for Governor Walz and legislative leadership to make decisions about the size and scope of any supplemental budget spending.

Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (DFL-Mankato), Chair of the Corrections Division, announced his retirement this week. To date, he is the eleventh House member to announce their retirement.

Precinct Caucuses

The House and Senate canceled Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning committee hearings to allow members to participate in their precinct caucuses.

While caucuses do not determine the allocation of delegates for presidential candidates in Minnesota, they do determine party endorsements for legislative seats both at the federal and state level. Precinct caucuses also remain the beginning step for electing delegates to state and national political conventions. Initial reports have indicated a low turnout at this year’s caucuses.

Minnesota will hold its first presidential primary since 1992 on Tuesday, March 3.

February Budget Forecast Released

On Thursday, Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) released its February forecast, which remained positive and stable and increased the projected surplus to $1.513 billion. This slight increase can be attributed to increased corporate tax revenue and a reduction in education expenditures. During its press conference announcing the surplus, MMB officials urged caution noting that while the U.S. economy is currently in the midst of the longest economic expansion period in history, there are several factors that could impact the projected surplus in the coming 16 months of the biennium. These factors include waning consumer confidence and a prolonged and widespread coronavirus outbreak.

The forecast projected a $465 million surplus for FY2022-23. Inflation regarding expenditures is estimated to be $1,119 million. The stadium reserve account was adjusted for FY2020-21 to be $130 million and grow to $263 million in FY2022-23.

Governor Walz urged caution about using the surplus for additional long-term spending, indicating that the state should use surplus funds to restore funding to the state’s budget reserve, invest in a robust bonding bill, and invest in Minnesota children and the workforce. He also indicated an openness to discussing ongoing spending in limited critical areas, citing, as an example, the recent Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) report on the safety of Department of Corrections’ officers and inmates. These items are expected to be included in the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal released during the week of March 10.

DFL House and Senate leaders also urged caution, noting that inflation with respect to state expenditures are, for the most part, prohibited from being included in the forecast, and the forecast also projects a budget deficit for the next biennium. Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) indicated investments in early childhood learning and a robust capital investment are the House DFL’s top priorities.

GOP House and Senate leaders remained united in using the surplus to eliminate state taxes on social security benefits and lowering income taxes for the first tier.

The full forecast document can be found here.

Tobacco Bills Advance

Bills impacting the sale of tobacco products in Minnesota were heard in both bodies this week. On Wednesday, SF 463, authored by Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), was heard in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. This bill raises the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 and adds charter schools to the ban on tobacco in Minnesota schools. The bill passed as amended and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The House companion, HF331, authored by Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina), is scheduled to be heard in the House Health and Human Services Finance Division on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the House Health and Human Services Policy committee heard HF 3032, authored by Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan). This bill bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol and many vaping e-liquids. Proponents stated these products encourage children to begin using tobacco products at a young age, and this bill will make these sales more difficult. Opponents raised concerns, arguing that children don’t use tobacco products because of flavors and there would be negative consequences for those who use e-cigarettes as a cessation device. Currently there is no Senate companion.

House Debate on Gun Safety Bills

The House debated two gun safety bills, HF 8, authored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), and HF 9, authored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights). Both HF 8 and HF 9 passed the House in 2019 as parts of larger omnibus bills but did not become law.

HF 8 requires background checks on all private gun sales that are currently excluded from Minnesota’s background check laws and requires background checks in transfers of guns with some exceptions. Supporters described HF 8 as a common-sense step to keep guns from those who have committed violent felonies and are already excluded from legal gun ownership under state law but purchase guns illegally. Opponents of HF 8 argued that it will create a burden on law-abiding gun owners while failing to address gun violence.

HF 9, more commonly known as the “red flag law,” would allow law enforcement to petition a civil court if they can prove a person is in crisis and is a danger to themselves or others. Proponents believe the bill would help in moments of crisis. Opponents argued that the bill does not provide enough due process for gun owners and will put law enforcement officers at risk if having to retrieve weapons in this manner.

After multiple hours of debate, both bills were passed off the House floor. SF3426 and SF436, both authored by Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), are the respective Senate companions and are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Insulin Update

HF 3100, the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act authored by Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield), was heard on the House Floor. Democrats argued that the bill will provide life-saving access to insulin for Minnesotans and will hold insulin manufacturers accountable. Republican members opposed the bill as a poorly conceived government program that will increase the price of insulin. The bill passed by a vote of 75-52.

The Senate companion, SF 3019 authored by Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), is awaiting a hearing in the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Important Dates

  • March 3: Minnesota Presidential Primary (Super Tuesday)
  • March 13: First Committee Deadline
  • March 20: Second Committee Deadline
  • April 3: Third Committee Deadline
  • April 3-13: Legislative Recess
  • May 15-16: GOP State Convention
  • May 18: Legislature Adjourns
  • May 30-31: DFL State Convention
  • June 2: Candidate Filing Deadline for 2020 Election
  • August 11: Primary Election Day
  • November 3: Election Day

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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