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Rep. Peggy Bennett: A disappointing end to the 2021 legislative session

Monday, May 17 marked the date that the Minnesota Legislature was constitutionally mandated to end the 2021 legislative session.

That day has come and gone. Session has ended, and yet our budget work for the year has not even begun.

While each of the two legislative bodies approved budget bills for every area within state government, a compromise was reached on none of them. In fact, only hours before the House adjourned for the year came news that the governor, House speaker, and Senate majority leader had reached the first step of an agreement on an overall budget target.

So where do we go from here? As the regular session is over, any bill that was approved is no longer eligible to be debated during special session. Therefore, all these bills will have to start over. The greatest concern I have with this process is that bills will now be debated behind closed doors. Only a select few will take part in the next bill crafting process, and the public is left out of that process. In short, transparency is lost.

I am also very concerned that the “tribunal” is back again through this global agreement that that the three leaders made. As part of this agreement, the governor gets “pre-veto power” on all policy and finance portions of our bills. Anything he doesn’t agree with will not be allowed into the bills. That is wrong.

Of course, the governor should be consulted on the content of bills, but in the end it is the House and the Senate (the Legislature) that puts together legislation – not the Executive Branch. As always, the governor gets his veto power when the bills come across his desk for a signature. Any pre-veto power should not be allowed.

It also boggles my mind that our House DFL majority had time to spend five hours on a marijuana bill that was going nowhere, and yet it did not get one budget bill passed. In addition, they failed to bring forward stand-alone legislation that would help hurting businesses and workers by exempting Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) income from state taxes, as well as exempting state taxation of Unemployment Insurance (UI).

All sides have agreed that we should eliminate state taxes on PPP and UI. That was part of the global agreement between the leaders. This delay means hurting businesses and employees have already paid these taxes as Tax Day has passed. Does this make any sense?

So, we start anew.

Though I am very much saddened that our budget legislation has been pushed into a special session, I’m cautiously hopeful over the next month that joint House and Senate working groups can hammer out responsible bills that fund the core responsibilities of government like educating our children, taking care of the vulnerable, and roads and bridges.

The regular session deadline has passed. A state shutdown date of July 1 looms if a new state budget is not in place. Special session is expected to be called on June 14, giving lawmakers roughly two more weeks to debate and approve these proposals. I will be sure to keep you updated on any progress.