Capitol Wrap: Bonding bills, Social Security taxes and what the governor signed this week

It was another busy week at the Minnesota Capitol.

For a quick roundup of the latest developments at the legislature, here is this week’s Capitol Wrap.

  • One of the biggest priorities of the session took a step forward this week.

The Minnesota House of Representatives passed a $1.9 billion infrastructure package on Monday, sending it to the Senate.

Bonding bills have been a priority for lawmakers after they failed to pass one last year.

While Gov. Tim Walz initially proposed a $3.3 billion infrastructure package, lawmakers opted for a smaller proposal that pairs a $1.5 billion bonding bill with a nearly $400 million cash bill.

Because bonding bills require a 60% majority to pass, the measure is seen as the main way for Republicans to use some leverage this session, as the DFL holds a slim majority in both chambers that allows them to pass most legislation without any Republican support.

Using that leverage, Republicans have threatened to hold up a bonding bill until they get some tax cuts approved.

DFL leaders have tried to minimize that leverage by saying they’ll pass a smaller all-cash bill if Republicans don’t agree to a bonding bill, as an all-cash bill requires only a simple majority.

  • Gov. Walz put his signature on a controversial bill and an executive order this week.

Tuesday morning, the governor signed legislation expanding access to driver’s licenses for all Minnesotans without requiring proof of legal residency in the country.

The bill was approved by the Minnesota House at the end of January and by the Senate last month. However, technical changes required the House to re-approve the bill, which was done last week, before it could go to Walz.

Supporters have said the bill will help make roads safer and break down barriers to getting a job or house. Opponents have said it could create room for voter fraud and gives illegal immigrants an incentive to come to the state and abuse state programs.

A day later, Walz signed an executive order aiming to protect the rights of Minnesota’s LGBTQ+ community and access to gender-affirming health care.

While the executive order could be reversed at any time, state lawmakers are working on legislation to codify access to gender-affirming care into state law.

Governor Walz says this is happening because of actions by other states — including neighbors to the west and south. Legislation in Iowa would ban gender-affirming care for people under 18.

Conservatives say the governor’s order will hurt vulnerable children instead of helping them. In a statement, Christian-based organization Minnesota Family Council’s CEO John Helmberger said, “People who struggle with their gender identity deserve compassionate care that will help them become comfortable in their bodies, not mutilate them.”

  • The push to eliminate state income taxes on Social Security benefits was renewed this week.

Thursday, the House Taxes Committee heard two bills on the topic: one to fully eliminate Social Security income taxes and one to eliminate Social Security income taxes for 80% of Minnesota seniors.

Republicans have been pushing for a full repeal of Social Security taxes, and Gov. Walz has also supported cutting them to varying extents. However, some DFL leaders have been hesitant to do that, believing the money could be used to help others more in need, while other lawmakers in the party who campaigned on that promise have supported getting rid of Social Security taxes.

The bill to fully eliminate the Social Security income tax got the most attention Thursday but still has a journey to get through the Legislature.

The nonpartisan House Research Department says more than half of all Minnesota households that get Social Security benefits currently don’t pay any state taxes on those benefits.

  • A bill that makes some technical changes to the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act and codifies portions that were dependent on federal law into state law is now headed to the governor.

The week after it was passed by the Minnesota Senate, the Minnesota House approved the bill. It intends to protect Indigenous people through certain child placement and permanency requirements and also affirms the recognition of tribes as sovereign nations.

While the bill had near-unanimous approval in both chambers, one of the House authors came under scrutiny for comments she made on social media that likened the adoption of Indigenous children by white people to genocide. While she later removed that comment, Rep. Heather Keeler’s social media does still have a quote from her stating, “We need to protect our Indigenous families and the integrity of our relatives. Our next seven generations are sacred to our community, and taking them away and stripping them of their identity is a form of genocide.”

Keeler, an Indigenous woman, also later posted a social media message apologizing for her comments but noting, “The erasure of my community isn’t only in our past; it is firmly in our present.”

  • A bill to help build out the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure made progress this week.

This week, the Minnesota House Transportation Committee passed a bill that would create a statewide network of fast chargers along Interstates 35 and 94.

The legislation calls for the chargers to be placed no more than 50 miles apart and within a mile of the interstate.

After getting the committee’s approval, it was re-referred to the House General Register and could get a vote from the full House soon. It also still needs approval from the Senate.

Several other bills — including legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana, a bill to modify police officer disability requirements, legislation to name a portion of Highway 5 in Chanhassen the “Prince Rogers Nelson Memorial Highway,” and a bill to provide free breakfast and lunch to all Minnesota students — all had committee hearings this week and continue to progress through the Legislature.

The universal school meals bill was passed by the Minnesota House last month and is now headed to the Senate floor, meaning it could soon be headed to the governor’s desk. A bill aiming to combat the wave of catalytic converter thefts is now officially headed to the governor’s desk now after the House concurred with technical changes made by the Senate last week.

Follow those and several other hot-button bills throughout the session KSTP’s Legislative Tracker.

The Senate also confirmed two more commissioners this week.

Click here to read last week’s Capitol Wrap.