Last bills settled: Lawmakers await word on special session

Published 8:52 am Friday, May 24, 2019

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz and top legislative leaders reached agreement Thursday on the last of their major budget bills, leaving lawmakers waiting on the governor to call a special session to finish their work for the year.

The last piece of the two-year budget fell into place early Thursday when the Democratic governor and leaders of the Senate Republican and House Democratic majorities agreed on a health and human services funding bill, which is one of the biggest parts of the budget.

The three leaders also agreed Wednesday night on bills to finance state government and a jobs-and-energy budget bill. That followed accords on several other must-pass bills earlier Wednesday.

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Full details of the health and human services bill were not immediately available Thursday morning, but here are some highlights of the three packages:

Health and Human Services

Rep. Tina Liebling, the lead House Democrat on the conference committee, tweeted that a proposal to make emergency insulin supplies more affordable was killed in the final hours of negotiations. Liebling blamed her Senate counterpart on the panel, Republican Michelle Benson. But Benson said Democrats left the proposal out of their documents.

The provision was named after Alec Smith, a 26-year-old uninsured Minneapolis man who died in 2017 of diabetic complications because he was rationing his insulin.

State government

The bill includes authority for Secretary of State Steve Simon to spend all $6.6 million the federal government had awarded the state for beefing up election cybersecurity.

Freeing up that money was expected to be one of the early bipartisan successes of the session, but it wasn’t. GOP Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who chairs a state government and elections committee, refused to fast-track the money for reasons she never made publicly clear. She said in a statement Wednesday night that the Senate’s goal was to make sure the money is spent “in an effective and responsible manner.”

The bill also includes $20 million for other state government cybersecurity measures. And it includes $1.6 million to help prepare Minnesota for the high-stakes 2020 census, which was less than the $2.5 million the governor sought. The state is on the bubble for losing one of its eight seats in the U.S. House, so it needs to ensure the most complete headcount possible.

Lawmakers agreed to change the state law for a resumption of presidential primaries that will govern the 2020 Super Tuesday contest so that data on the party choices of voters will no longer be open to the public, as it would have been under the 2016 law, but will be provided to the major party chairs.

Jobs and energy

A Walz-backed proposal to set an ambitious goal for the state of getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050 didn’t make it into the final bill. But money for stepped-up enforcement to prevent wage theft did.