Capitol Wrap: Paid leave, marijuana, and bills that are going down to the wire

This was the last full week of the 2023 legislative session, and lawmakers put the finishing touches on several pieces of legislation at the Minnesota Capitol.

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

  • Lawmakers have reached an agreement on a tax bill, but it still has to be approved by the Minnesota House and Senate.

The deal reached by committee members Wednesday night includes one-time rebate checks to Minnesotans worth $260 for single-filers or $520 for joint-filers, although that is far lower than Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal of $1,000 for single-filers and $2,000 for joint-filers. It also eliminates Social Security income taxes on those making less than $100,000 per year, which covers about 76% of the state’s seniors.

The bill also includes around $3 billion in tax cuts, which the DFL has touted as the largest cut in state history, although they’re accompanied by new taxes that primarily target those making more than the average Minnesotan.

The chambers are expected to give the bill final approval this weekend.

  • Two big paid leave measures are on their way to the governor’s desk.

The Minnesota House passed the paid family and medical leave bill but lowered the amount of paid leave it guarantees employees. A previous version offered 12 weeks of paid family leave and another 12 weeks of paid medical leave, but the latest version offers 12 weeks for a serious medical or family issue, with a limit of 20 weeks of paid leave in a single year.

The Senate then approved the amended version Thursday night.

Supporters say the legislation will allow Minnesotans to take care of themselves or family members without having to sacrifice a paycheck, which most can’t afford to do. Opponents say the program will create too large of a cost and burden for small businesses.

However, it should be noted that the program isn’t set up to be fully operational until the start of 2026.

Also approved this week was a sick and safe time measure.

The House passed it earlier this year, but it’s now included in the labor and industry omnibus bill. The measure guarantees workers at least one hour of paid earned sick and safe time for every 30 hours worked, up to at least 48 hours per year.

The labor bill is now headed to the governor.

  • Maybe the highest-profile bill of the entire session is coming down to the wire.

While committee negotiators finalized the details of the recreational marijuana bill early this week, it’s taken some time to actually get the finalized bill to the House and Senate floors to formally re-pass it. However, that’s still expected to happen before the session ends.

The House gave it final approval late Thursday night, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill as soon as Friday night.

Once approved by the Senate, it will head to Gov. Walz, who has said he’ll sign it into law.

  • Omnibus bills contain so many measures that it’s easy to lose track of what each contains.

However, there are many omnibus bills that may not be getting much attention but still have important provisions that affect Minnesotans.

While this is by no means a comprehensive breakdown of everything in those bills, here are some of the bills that are either on their way to the governor’s desk or are still being worked on but are trending that way, along with some of the most notable included measures:

  • Education budget — This massive education bill includes billions in funding for a variety of school and education initiatives and is touted by DFL lawmakers as the largest public school funding boost in state history. It also requires civics and personal finance classes for high schoolers to graduate, boosts the education formula by 4% next year and 2% in 2025, covers free menstrual products for students, and includes funding to increase teachers of color, invest in libraries and add student support personnel. It’s now headed to the governor.
  • Early childhood education — The bill, which is headed to Walz, includes millions for early-learning scholarships targeted at low-income and vulnerable kids and funding to recruit and train early childhood educators.
  • Commerce budget — Fully approved by the Legislature, this bill creates a Prescription Drug Affordability Board that aims to stop price gouging and cap how much Minnesotans pay for high-cost drugs, a student loan advocate to help educate borrowers about their rights and risks, features consumer protections and repeals the state’s eight-cent-per-gallon gas markup.
  • Labor and jobs bill — This is the bill that includes the sick and safe time measure, but it also features more than $350 million in funds for state matching for federal funds, the “Promise Act,” which focuses on rebuilding cultural and economic corridors damaged after George Floyd’s murder, and millions for job training, child care affordability, and racial equity measures. Republicans say it adds new mandates that will increase costs for Minnesotans. It’s headed to Walz’s desk.
  • Environment and energy budget bill — Now on its way to the governor, this omnibus includes millions in funding to expand solar gardens and solar panels on public buildings, offer rebates and grants for electric vehicles, and create more clean energy jobs. It also includes a ban on non-essential PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” through legislation named in honor of Amara Strande, a woman from Oakdale who died two days before her 21st birthday last month from a rare form of cancer caused by PFAS. Republicans say the bill will just create new, costly regulations for Minnesotans.
  • Rideshare drivers bill clears House — This legislation isn’t an omnibus bill and just cleared the House Thursday night. It aims to increase protections for rideshare drivers, like Uber and Lyft drivers, by establishing minimum compensation rates, the ability to be reinstated after deactivation and more legal rights for drivers. Uber threatened to pull out of the state if it passes. It still has to pass the Senate before it can go to the governor.
  • “Keeping Nurses at Bedside Act” — The latest twist in the saga came Thursday when lawmakers split the nursing legislation into a separate bill from the health finance omnibus. Additionally, after Mayo Clinic threatened to take $1 billion in investments elsewhere, lawmakers also included an exemption for the health system. The highly controversial bill still needs approval, and many are still unhappy with the compromise that was worked out. The Minnesota Hospital Association says the bill has “fatal flaws” and the Minnesota Nurses Association, one of the strongest supporters of the bill, denounced Walz for “siding with corporate bullies” and giving Mayo Clinic an exemption. However, if passed, MNA says the bill will still protect nurses at more than 90% of the state’s hospitals.

As of late Friday afternoon, the Senate was still working on the human services appropriations omnibus and the government and elections appropriations omnibus.

  • While several others are either on their way to the governor’s desk or will be soon, Walz did sign 14 bills into law this week.

Here is a quick look at each of those:

  • Veterans and housing omnibus bills on Monday — The housing bill includes $1 billion for a variety of housing investments, including vouchers, construction, and pathways to homeownership. The veterans bill builds on the state’s push to end veteran homelessness by allocating funding for three new veterans homes and also includes funding for additional service bonuses and Minnesota National Guard health and training.
  • A lead pipes replacement bill on Tuesday — It allocates $240 million for grants to replace lead pipes across the state.
  • The agriculture and broadband omnibus on Thursday — This includes millions for farming and agriculture but also contains $100 million to expand high-speed broadband internet services. It was one of the few omnibus bills with wide bipartisan support in both chambers.
  • The judiciary and public safety appropriations omnibus on Friday — Maybe most notably, the legislation includes a requirement for background checks on private gun sales plus a “red flag” law. However, it also contains funding for the court system and the public defense system, eliminates fees for court documents, strictly limits the use of no-knock warrants, allows minors given a life sentence to apply for parole after 15 years instead of the current 30 years and includes money for crime prevention programs. DFL lawmakers say the bill will make Minnesota safer, while Republicans say it won’t improve safety.
  • The duty disability bill on Friday — It allocates more than $100 million for treatment programs for police, firefighters and public safety professionals with PTSD, but also changes provisions to require more treatment before getting disability benefits.
  • The legacy omnibus bill on Friday — This earmarks over $800 million for the state’s outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and trails, as well as efforts to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage through art.
  • The Met Council redistricting bill on Friday — Just as it sounds, it redistricts Metropolitan Council districts to make their populations more equal.
  • The higher education policy omnibus on Friday — The bill adds language to expand uses of mineral research scholarships for those in STEM programs.
  • The pension omnibus on Friday — The bipartisan bill makes changes to state pension plans to help protect them and add a cost-of-living adjustment.
  • The Secure Choice Retirement Program bill on Friday — It uses $5 million to create a Minnesota Secure Choice Retirement Program, allowing private sector employees to better save for retirement.
  • The pension policy bill on Friday — This makes changes to reduce the amount of time before retirement that State Patrol Retirement Plan members can apply for retirement.
  • The substance use disorder licensing bill on Friday — Expands access to addiction treatment services.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Advisory Committee bill on Friday — The legislation adopts the council’s recommendations to make technical changes to workers’ compensation law.

One bill that won’t be headed to the governor despite another strong push from lawmakers this year is a bill to legalize sports betting. Despite the recent KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll showing Minnesotans support legalizing sports betting, issues over who should have rights for betting services held up progress, and lawmakers say they ran out of time again.

See the status of several hot-button bills with KSTP’s Legislative Tracker.

Lawmakers will likely be busy throughout the weekend before officially adjourning on Monday.

For past coverage, click here to read last week’s Capitol Wrap and here to read all of our previous coverage throughout the session.