Capitol Wrap: With final bills passed, that’s a wrap

2023 Legislative session wraps up

2023 Legislative session wraps up

Minnesota lawmakers spent this past weekend and Monday putting the finishing touches on several pieces of legislation at the Minnesota Capitol ahead of the deadline to adjourn.

While a special session could still be called — although that isn’t currently expected — lawmakers were required by law to finish this year’s session by 11:59 p.m. Monday.

In our final Capitol Wrap of the year, here is a quick roundup of the final few days of the legislative session.

  • Recreational marijuana will become legal in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Senate gave the bill final approval on Saturday, sending it to Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he’ll sign it into law.

The bill will also allow many low-level cannabis-related convictions to be expunged, although lawmakers say that work will likely take several months to a year.

It will also take time to get the new Office of Cannabis Management up and running (although the office’s website is already online), so don’t expect a flourishing recreational marijuana market in the state this year or likely even next year. Lawmakers said decriminalization was the primary focus.

When signed by Walz, however, it will make Minnesota the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana.

  • Direct rebate checks, child tax credits, other tax cuts, and new tax increases will all officially happen after the governor signs the Legislature’s massive tax bill.

The Senate signed off on the bill Sunday, sending it to Walz.

Included in the legislation are 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. It also includes one-time rebate checks to Minnesotans worth $260 for single-filers or $520 for joint-filers — far lower than Gov. Walz’s proposal of $1,000 for single-filers and $2,000 for joint-filers — and eliminates Social Security income taxes on those making less than $100,000 per year, which covers about 76% of the state’s seniors but not all seniors, as Republicans had pushed for.

Also included is the controversial measure requiring electronic pull tabs to be opened individually instead of opening all with one touch. Native American tribes had said the one-touch versions were too much like slot machines, which only tribes can operate in the state. However, opponents say charitable gaming organizations will be decimated by the change.

  • Seemingly dead for most of the session, a bonding bill was approved before the buzzer.

Lawmakers announced that they struck a deal on the issue on Saturday after a monthslong standoff.

Because of the DFL’s slim majority in each chamber and the requirement that bonding bills have 60% approval in each chamber, Republicans used their leverage to hold up the bill for months. DFL leaders had promised to pass a smaller all-cash bill, which required only a simple majority, if Republicans didn’t cooperate, but the deal over the final weekend settled on using $2.6 billion — around $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds and another $1 billion in cash — for capital improvement projects across the state. Additionally, another $300 million is being used from the capital investments fund for Minnesota nursing homes, something Republicans pushed for.

Going into the session, a bonding bill was a big priority for the DFL because lawmakers failed to pass one last year (they’re traditionally approved in even-year sessions).

It took until the final day, but the bonding bill and capital improvement bill were finally approved by lawmakers Monday night and now go to the governor, who has signaled his intent to sign them into law.

  • A gas tax increase, new delivery fees, and a closely-watched rideshare driver protection measure are all headed to the governor.

The Minnesota House and Senate approved the transportation omnibus bill, which includes $7.8 billion for roads, transit, and airports, over the weekend. It also includes a gas tax increase tied to inflation and a new 50-cent fee on retail deliveries of more than $100, excluding food, medical supplies and baby products.

The new taxes and fees aren’t slated to start until next year but angered Republicans, who called the measures a “grab for more” by the DFL when money from the state’s surplus was sufficient.

Starting next year, it will also allow Minnesota’s professional sports teams to help design a special license plate. The fee from purchases of those plates will support that team’s foundation.

Earlier in the weekend, lawmakers approved a bill aimed at increasing protections for rideshare drivers, like Uber and Lyft drivers.

The bill sets 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 becomes law, with the companies saying customers will feel the impact.

It will now head to Walz for his signature.

  • The final day of the session featured a flurry of activity.

Lawmakers passed the health and human services omnibus, which includes money for mental health grants, a MinnesotaCare buy-in option, efforts to combat homelessness, food security, and initiatives to make child care more affordable and accessible.

In addition to that and bonding bills, the controversial and much-debated “Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act” also was changed. After Mayo Clinic threatened to take $1 billion in investments elsewhere, lawmakers included an exemption for the health system, but many were still unhappy with the legislation, as the Minnesota Hospital Association highlighted its concerns that it called “fatal flaws.”

Monday night, lawmakers removed a measure that would’ve given nurses more say in staffing levels but kept provisions to protect nurses from workplace violence and help address burnout. The renamed “Nurse and Patient Safety Act” was then approved before the end of the session.

The Minnesota Hospital Association thanked lawmakers for listening to the concerns over the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act while the Minnesota Nurses Association expressed disappointment, saying “the outsized power of corporate executives is alive and well” and their “strong-arm bully tactics” worked. However, the nurse union also said the measure that did pass “will meaningfully improve the lives and the work” of many nurses.

Also passed before the end of the session were the local government and elections bill, the human services budget bill and legislation outlining requirements during healthcare mergers that aim to protect state interests and patient care, which came in response to the pending Sanford-Fairview merger.

One measure that doesn’t appear to have made it before the buzzer is the equality amendment proposal. Of course, many other bills, including a bill to legalize sports betting, also didn’t pass during the session.

See the status of several hot-button bills we’ve followed throughout the session with KSTP’s Legislative Tracker.

Gov. Walz will now sign many of the bills approved over the past 10 days in the coming days and weeks.

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