Capitol Wrap: Rail safety, sales taxes and what bills were signed into law

Lawmakers were busy again this week at the Minnesota Capitol.

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

A bill in the Senate was introduced to strengthen railroad training requirements and increase the number of inspectors.

Lawmakers are planning to formally introduce the bill in the House next week.

  • In some rare bipartisan news, lawmakers in the Minnesota House unanimously approved a bill to replenish the state’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account.

The bill, if approved by the Senate and signed into law, would move $40 million into the account.

That emergency account was created in 2014 to expedite help to communities dealing with damages from disasters.

It was made particularly for when the legislature isn’t in session, so lawmakers wouldn’t have to reconvene each time a disaster was declared to help the community.

The House also unanimously repealed a requirement for certain public school vehicles to be retired when they become 12 years old.

  • Lawmakers discussed legislation seeking to address organized retail crime this week.

Several lawmakers were joined by the president of the Minnesota Retailers Association to talk about the issue during a press conference.

They say organized retail crime — different from ordinary shoplifting — is increasingly becoming a problem, and the legislation would differentiate organized retail crime from petty theft under the law.

  • The Minnesota Senate gave final approval to a bill giving money for emergency homelessness prevention grants.

The legislation, which provides $50 million for the Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program, is aimed at combatting a recent increase in evictions, lawmakers say.

The House previously approved the bill, and it was signed by Gov. Tim Walz at the end of the week.

  • Gov. Walz signed a few other bills into law this week, too.

Aside from the rental assistance program bill, one of those amends the Veterans Restorative Justice Act to allow veterans charged with a crime to find out if they’re eligible for deferred prosecution before a finding of guilt. Another provides resources to help eligible Minnesotans keep their Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare health insurance as the federal COVID-19 emergency winds down. The third allows wills to be finished electronically.

Several other bills — including a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, one to protect the privacy of anyone seeking reproductive health care in the state and the aforementioned rail safety bill — had committee hearings this week and continue to progress through the legislature. Additionally, lawmakers heard proposals from 19 cities and counties seeking permission to raise sales taxes, and Republicans discussed what it’d take for them to support a bonding bill this session, although there wasn’t any indication Democrats are open to that proposal.

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

Click here to read last week’s Capitol Wrap.

Lawmakers go on a break from April 4-10, meaning there won’t be a Capitol Wrap next week.