Minnesota Legislature passes $72 billion budget; ends session

Published 8:44 am Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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By Dana Ferguson and Brian Bakst

he Minnesota Legislature on Monday buttoned up the final pieces of a new $72 billion two-year state budget, and DFL leaders marked their accomplishments at the Capitol this year as “transformational.”

The House and Senate approved a vast health and human services bill on party lines and passed a $2.6 billion capital investment package. They also unanimously passed a $300 million aid package for nursing homes.

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The Senate adjourned for the year at 9:55, hours before the midnight deadline. The House followed about 10 minutes later.

After a historically productive session, DFL leaders looked back on a checklist that they set up in their caucus room at the beginning of the year. And they said they were pleased to have ticked off key priorities that they’d told voters they would work on once they took all three levers of power in St. Paul.

Among those priorities were efforts to guarantee the right to an abortion, grant driver’s licenses to people regardless of their immigration status, restore the vote to people still on probation for committing a felony, create a paid family and medical leave program, legalize cannabis for adult use, impose new restrictions on firearms and approve a state budget that provided taxpayer rebates, boosted funding for schools and more.

“When Jamie and his team put the big board up in caucus, I was like, ‘Oh, holy buckets, we’re setting expectations really high,’” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters, referring to Majority Leader Jamie Long of Minneapolis. “What I wanted us to do was under promise and over deliver. And I feel like that’s what we did.”

For Republicans, the session was “very quick and very disappointing.”

“Everything went through this session incredibly quickly,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said. “And then as far as disappointing, some of the things that did make their way through and then the lack of tax relief for Minnesotans with a $17.5 billion surplus. We delivered none of that back to Minnesota. None, nothing for the Minnesotan taxpayers and they’re gonna watch your taxes go up and fees and increases.”

Bill sets pathway to MinnesotaCare buy-in, adds state agency

Both chambers on party-line votes passed a vast health, human services, children and families bill on Monday.

The proposal would create a new Department of Children and Families and boost funding for the Child Care Assistance Program and for homelessness prevention. It would also lay the groundwork for a public buy-in option for MinnesotaCare and make undocumented immigrants eligible to enroll in MinnesotaCare.

Democrats said the bill would help more Minnesotans access health care and make it more affordable.

“The reality is still that for many people, health care is too expensive and may even be out of reach all together,” House Health Committee Chair Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said.“If you need care for mental health concerns, or come from a minority community, or are uninsured or speak a language other than English or are undocumented, are many other things, you could very well be left behind. Our bill begins to address all of these things.”

Republicans said the bill included too many mandates and wasn’t crafted in a transparent fashion. They also raised concerns about allowing unauthorized immigrants to enroll in MinnesotaCare and paving the way to a public option.

“When we go to this MinnesotaCare buy-in, that’s going to cause real problems for providers, when they are now primarily being reimbursed at significantly lower rates than what the actual cost of care is,” Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, said. “This is not magic. This is just math.”

The bill would also strike laws on the books that require a 24-hour wait time before obtaining an abortion, require physicians to report certain demographic details of those seeking abortions to the state and require abortion providers to provide medically inaccurate information to patient. It would also end funding to “crisis pregnancy centers.”

Democrats said the changes were important because some of the laws had been deemed unconstitutional by a Ramsey County judge and put on hold. Meanwhile, others posed undue burdens on people seeking abortions, they said.

Republicans opposed the changes and said that the laws were passed with bipartisan support and should remain on the books.

$2.6 billion capital investment bill, nursing home funding pass

The Legislature also passed a $2.6 billion capital investment package – funded by the sale of general obligation bonds and by cash – in the last few hours of the legislative session.

The proposal funds road, bridge, wastewater and other projects around the state. And it marks the largest bonding package adopted in the state’s history.

Lawmakers hadn’t passed a bonding bill since 2020. And they received more than $5 billion in proposed projects coming into the legislative session.

A last-minute deal to tie bonding to funding for nursing homes won over GOP support and got the votes needed in the Senate to get the bill passed.

Senate Capital Investment Chair Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said the bill would benefit the entire state.

“From clean water and smooth roads to modern buildings and accessible natural areas, the projects encompass nearly every aspect of life across the state,” Pappas said. “These projects are distributed equally across greater Minnesota and the metro area. Of these projects roughly half are in GOP districts and half are DFL districts or span multiple districts and issue areas.”

Over the weekend, DFL and Republican leaders struck a deal to pass the bonding package in exchange for a $300 million aid bill for nursing homes, and on Monday every member of the Legislature voted for the nursing home money.

Republicans in the Senate had opposed a bonding bill and said it should come with tax relief for Minnesotans. But in the last days of session, they agreed to put up the votes to pass the bill as well as a commitment to end the session smoothly if Democrats put up a bill to help nursing homes.

Long-term care providers for months had urged lawmakers to provide them aid after inflation and staffing crises took a toll on their budgets. And they said the emergency funding, along with additional funding for recruitment and retention pay, would go a long way.

“I think that that we feel heard and validated that lawmakers have taken seriously what we have been sounding the alarm bell for for months, quite frankly, years, that our senior care sector has been hit hard and needed some critical relief this session,” said Kari Thurlow, president and CEO of Leading Age Minnesota.

Nurse staffing bill loses teeth

Both chambers also passed a measure that would create new violence prevention initiatives for hospitals, fund loan forgiveness and child care aid for nurses, and conduct a study on why nurses are leaving the field.

After the Mayo Clinic pressed the state for an exemption from a broader plan that would have required hospitals to put in place committees to set staffing levels, and other hospitals pushed back, DFL lawmakers said they had to strip the provision from the bill to get it passed.

“The work that we have been doing to keep nurses focused in this legislation and patients focused in this legislation really got subsumed by a fight among corporate entities, Mayo and the other corporate hospitals,” the bill’s author Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-Saint Paul, said. “And it essentially dominated and replaced the debate that we’ve been having about nursing and patient safety. And that’s unfortunate.”

Murphy and others who’d worked on the legislation said they would continue their efforts to implement nurse staffing measures next legislative session.