Capitol Wrap: Catalytic converters, felon voting rights signed into law, food shelf funding and more

It was a very busy week at the Minnesota Capitol.

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

  • Legislation aimed at stemming the tide of catalytic converter thefts will soon head to the governor.

Thursday, the Minnesota Senate approved the bill on a vote of 40-25.

While the House has to first sign off on language tweaks made by the Senate, the House already approved the bill last week and is expected to concur with the Senate.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says catalytic converter thefts have spiked by over 1,200% across the U.S. since 2019, and the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau says Minnesota is third in the country in thefts.

When signed into law, it will require scrap dealers to keep specific information about who they bought it from to help law enforcement and will make it illegal for scrap dealers to buy catalytic converters that aren’t attached to a vehicle unless they have identifying marking connecting them to a specific vehicle.

  • Minnesota food shelves are getting a boost thanks to a newly signed law that will provide one-time emergency funding.

The Senate passed the bill on Monday, and Gov. Tim Walz then signed it into law on Thursday.

The bill sends $5 million in emergency funding to the commissioner of the Department of Human Services for food shelf programs.

In 2022, Minnesota food shelves reported a record-high 5.28 million visits from residents.

Additionally, emergency payments through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are ending this month, which may increase the dependence on food shelves for some Minnesotans. The state says those benefits helped more than 350,000 Minnesota households during the pandemic.

  • The first chamber of the Minnesota Legislature has passed a bill that aims to outlaw price gouging in times of emergencies.

The Minnesota House of Representatives approved the legislation Thursday, 72-58.

According to the bill, if passed, it would allow the governor to declare an “abnormal market disruption” that would prevent sellers from setting “unconscionably excessive” prices for essential goods and services. Anyone who violates the law would then be subject to potential fines.

DFL lawmakers say 36 other states already have similar laws banning excessive price hikes on items such as food, prescription drugs, and personal hygiene products.

The bill now heads to the Minnesota Senate.

The bill, known as the “Pathway Home Act,” seeks to expedite funding for emergency shelters and support systems in an effort to keep youth housed.

It would authorize $150 million to be used in the 2024 fiscal year to increase beds and improve safety and access to shelters, and $75 million to serve health and other needs of those facing housing instability. It also includes millions of dollars for subsequent years and other grants to provide long-term investments in homelessness prevention.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate.

Two other high-profile bills were officially sent to Gov. Walz this week.

While the bills to restore voting rights for felons who have completed their incarceration period and to allow Minnesotans to get driver’s license or state identification card without showing proof of legal presence in the U.S. both cleared the Senate last week, small changes required one final sign-off from the House before they could go to the governor.

The House concurred with the Senate’s tweaks to both bills this week, and Walz signed the “Restore the Vote” bill on Friday. He could sign the “Driver’s Licenses for All” bill next week.

In other big political news this week, the latest budget forecast was released, showing the state’s projected surplus at $17.5 billion. However, for the first time in around two decades, it factored in inflation thanks to a bill passed by lawmakers just last month.

Lawmakers also introduced several new bills this week, including one to implement ranked choice voting in state elections, legislation to create a statewide electric vehicle charging infrastructure program, and a bill that would eliminate tstate’se’s minimum markup on gas.

Several other bills — including bills to legalize recreational marijuana, improve Metro Transit safety, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and require more transparency in ticket prices — all had committee hearings this week and continue to progress through the Legislature.

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

Click here to read last week’s Capitol Wrap.