MN Legislature: What got done (and what didn’t)

Published 10:33 am Monday, May 23, 2016

By Kyle Potter and the Associated Press FM

As a midnight Sunday deadline passed, lawmakers failed to wrap up major deals and loose ends as they handled the state’s $900 million budget surplus.

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Among the marquee items still unfinished as the Legislature wrapped up early Monday morning was a major transportation funding package and a borrowing bill for construction projects. Lawmakers did finalize a bill with $260 million in tax relief and some other spending.

What got done

•Tax cuts: The Legislature passed the compromise package of tax cuts Sunday, a mix of property tax relief to farmers and businesses, a new tax credit for college graduates with loan debt and expanded aid to Minnesota parents with childcare costs.

A smaller item that triggered Democratic criticism would remove the automatic, annual tax hikes to cigarettes and other tobacco products that lawmakers approved as part of a major tax increase in 2013.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said his support will hinge on whether the Legislature funds some of his priorities. He has 14 days to decide whether to sign the bill.

•Preschool: Dayton is finally poised to get one of his top prizes. A supplemental spending bill would provide $25 million for a phased-in preschool program, targeting impoverished school districts without early education options. It’s expected to allow about 3,700 more 4-year-olds to attend preschool.

•Broadband and racial equity: Lawmakers checked some other boxes on Dayton’s wish list — sort of. The $35 million in extra grants for broadband Internet development fell well short of the $100 million request Dayton made. So did the $35 million lined up for programs meant to tackle longstanding racial disparities.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt both hoped they had come close enough to satisfying the governor and gaining his approval.

•Presidential primary: Goodbye, caucuses.

The Legislature passed a bill scrapping the presidential caucus voting system for 2020, opting for a presidential primary format after long lines at polling locations frustrated voters and party officials alike. Dayton signed the bill Sunday evening.

•Body cameras: It took two years, but the Legislature finally passed a bill setting ground rules for police use of body cameras.

The legislation makes most footage private. It required some last-minute maneuvering to gain Dayton’s approval, as the governor demanded that lawmakers remove a section that allowed officers to review videos before submitting a written incident report. They relented.

That was one of many provisions open government advocates complained would make body cameras a tool for law enforcement rather than a window for public transparency. Still, Dayton has said he’ll sign it.

•Drug sentencing reductions: It came down to the wire, but lawmakers approved a broad set of reductions to prison sentences for most drug offenders. It supplanted the more drastic changes set in motion late last year by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which law enforcement and county officials complained would offer lighter treatment to drug dealers. The commission’s actions would have taken effect in August had the Legislature not stepped in.

The Legislature failed to pass a transportation bill that would provide money for road and bridge repair. -- William Lager/MPR News

The Legislature failed to pass a transportation bill that would provide money for road and bridge repair. — William Lager/MPR News

What didn’t get done

•Transportation: A last-ditch effort to provide some one-time funding for roads and bridges fell apart in a blur Sunday night.

Legislative leaders spent the week tussling over how to fund a decade’s worth of transportation fixes, with a gas tax increase, license tab fee hikes, borrowing and surplus money all in the mix. As the deadline approached, some lawmakers were floating a last-ditch option to provide some one-time funding for road and bridge repairs.

In the end, House Republicans’ attempt to add some road and bridge repair funding into a bonding bill — a package of more than $1 billion in public works projects — failed amid a dispute with Senate Democrats over funding mass transit projects. Both legislative leaders suggested they could revisit a bonding bill in a special session, if Dayton would agree to call one.

•Real ID: The Legislature ran out of time to upgrade Minnesota’s driver’s licenses.

Federal officials say they’ll start requiring Real ID-compliant licenses at domestic flight gates in 2018. Lawmakers were largely in agreement to start issuing new licenses in 2018, but other, smaller details held up a final deal.

•Fantasy sports: A bill that would have legalized online fantasy sports was shelved earlier this month. The bill would have defined fantasy sports as games of skill and not gambling in state law. It also included several consumer protection and regulatory provisions.

•Sunday liquor sales: The push for Sunday liquor sales was corked yet again. Lawmakers rejected a proposal to allow local government officials to decide whether to allow liquor stores in their communities to open on Sundays.

•Bathroom gender restrictions: The House Civil Law Committee held a hearing on a bill that would designate bathroom and locker room use based on biological sex. The committee never took a vote and the bill did not advance.

•Prince law: The bill was originally proposed by managers of Prince’s estate to fend off unauthorized commercial ventures featuring the late artist, but was significantly revised.

The revised bill generally gave an estate power to defend against commercial exploitation for 50 years after death, building mainly off established law.

The Senate Rules Committee pushed the measure back to a judiciary panel for further debate instead of sending it to the Senate floor for a final vote. It may be addressed in 2017.