Capitol Wrap: Budget bills advance, bipartisan bills headed to Walz, more

Minnesota lawmakers returned from their break and got back to business this week.

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

  • The Minnesota Senate took up several omnibus bills this week.

Thursday, the chamber passed the agriculture, broadband and rural development budget bill, 58-7.

Included in the package is $100 million for broadband expansion, $14 million for a grain indemnity fund, $2 million in soil health grants and millions more in funding aimed at helping farmers.

Despite the bipartisan support, Republican Lead Sen. Torrey Westrom said the bill fails to sufficiently fund critical programs.

It will now head to a conference committee for House and Senate negotiators to work on a final budget bill.

Friday, the chamber took up three more omnibus bills: Commerce appropriations; jobs, economic development, labor, and industry appropriations; and judiciary and public safety appropriations.

The commerce omnibus, which included a provision to create a prescription drug affordability board, passed Friday afternoon. Debate on the other two extended into the night Friday but both narrowly passed, despite Republican opposition.

The public safety bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars aimed at preventing crime, retaining law enforcement officers and helping the court system. However, opponents bashed the bill as a “get out of jail free card” for criminals, saying it makes thousands eligible for early release and funnels funding to untested organizations.

The labor bill was hailed by DFL lawmakers as the result of years of work and something that will invest in state industries, improve racial equity and expand training and protections for workers. Republicans say it just increases red tape for businesses and will lead to higher costs for Minnesotans.

“Our Labor budget bill should heavily invest in efforts that improve the quality of jobs for Minnesotans,” Sen. Gene Dornink (R-Brownsdale), the lead Republican of the Senate Labor Committee said in part about the bill. “This year’s legislation, however, does the exact opposite.”

Despite their approval by the Senate, the bills still need to make their way through the House and then make their way through negotiators for the chambers.

  • The Minnesota House approved a couple of omnibus bills this week.

The proposed higher education budget — which includes a two-year tuition freeze at Minnesota State colleges, $50 million in one-time funding for Minnesota State structural deficits, funding to cover the University of Minnesota’s $48 million tuition shortfall, millions for U of M security initiatives and many other higher education investments — passed the House 69-58.

It still has to work its way through the Senate before getting to the governor.

A more detailed breakdown of the funding in the bill can be seen here.

The House also approved the Legacy budget bill, 69-59. That bill earmarks more than $820 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.

That bill also still needs approval from the Senate.

  • A couple of bills got bipartisan approval this week.

Thursday, the Minnesota Senate passed a bill to allocate $40 million to the state’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account.

While the House passed the bill at the end of last month, the Senate made some changes so the House then suspended its procedural rules to repass the bill, sending it to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk. Both chambers gave it unanimous support.

The emergency account was created in 2014 to expedite help to communities dealing with damages from disasters instead of waiting for lawmakers to convene each time.

Additionally, the Senate unanimously passed a bill aimed at improving the state’s labor trafficking laws to better protect victims.

Lawmakers say the changes bring the state more in line with other states by enhancing certain penalties and amending some of the definitions of trafficking.

The House approved that bill back in February, and House-Senate negotiators will now work out the differences before that too heads to the governor’s desk.

Thursday night, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill covering several DFL election-related priorities for the session. Some of those include automatic voter registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and an option to permanently vote absentee. It also aims to prevent foreign investors or foreign-influenced corporations from contributing to a candidate or party.

While advocates say the bill protects Minnesotans’ voting rights, Republicans called it the “most partisan election bill in history” because of its lack of Republican support.

The bill still needs the Senate’s approval before it can head to the governor’s desk.

  • The governor will also soon get legislation that will create a fund for clean energy grants.

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill to create the Minnesota State Competitiveness Fund and place $115 million. That money will then be used for grants to entities that have federal grants in need of matching funds for energy infrastructure and clean energy projects.

The goal is to help the state compete for federal matching grants and benefit the state’s energy economy.

The House already passed the bill a couple of weeks ago so it will soon be on Gov. Walz’s desk.

Several other bills — including legislation on a paid family leave program, a bill to allow all residents to buy into the MinnesotaCare health insurance program and one aimed at making Minnesota a trans refuge state — had committee hearings this week and continue to progress through the legislature.

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

Click here to read the last Capitol Wrap.