The Daily Digest: Your 2015 session crib sheet

The Legislature wrapped up its business late last night, meeting a constitutional deadline to finish its work for 2015 by midnight.

Nevertheless, the Legislature is headed toward a special session to rework an education bill Gov. Mark Dayton will veto.

With new budget bills sitting on Dayton’s desk, there’s a lot of information to absorb.

So, if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about around the watercooler this morning, here’s what you need to know:

Higher education

The House and Senate passed a higher education budget that falls short of requests from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to freeze tuition for another two years.

The bill includes $30 million for the University of Minnesota medical school and $22 million to hold down tuition. University officials had requested $65 million to freeze tuition for the next two years.

MnSCU gets about $100 million in the bill to cover a tuition freeze for students at two-year schools. The money would also freeze tuition in 2017 for students at four-year state universities.  MnSCU officials had requested $148 million to freeze all tuition.

The bill also adds $7 million to the state grant program for low-income students.

K-12 education 

Legislators agreed to the $17 billion funding bill, which includes an additional $400 million for schools.

That’s despite a veto threat from Dayton. He wanted $150 million more than that, with about $171 million earmarked to fund free half-day pre-kindergarten in public schools.

A big chunk of the additional $400 million is for a per-pupil formula increase of 1.5 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017.

The bill also includes $30 million more for an early learning scholarship program and $30 million for early learning grants.

Agriculture and the environment 

The big win for Dayton in this bill are stricter rules on buffer zones that separate farmland from public waterways. The buffers will be required on public waters by late 2017 and on drainage ditches by late 2018. They’ll have to be a minimum of 30 feet wide and an average of 50 feet wide. For ditches, buffers would have to be 16.5 feet wide.

Dayton has been pushing his buffers plan for months, pitting the environmentalist wing of the DFL party against the farming wing. It’s part of Dayton’s plan to improve the state’s water quality.

But DFLers were also disappointed that the bill nixes a citizens’ board that has oversight of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The bill also funds a University of Minnesota study of how avian flu is spread and it contains money to respond to the outbreak.

Health and Human Services 

Given the House and Senate bills were so far apart just a week ago, it’s a small miracle this $12 billion bill made it to the governor’s desk with bipartisan support.

In fact, this bill is more notable for what it doesn’t include than what is does include.

For instance, a House Republican proposal to save more than $500 million by eliminating MinnesotaCare, a state health care program for the working poor, was left on the cutting room floor after Democrats said they wouldn’t agree.

Still, it appears at first blush that the bill cuts $300 million from health and human services programs. Most of the savings come from funding shifts and other budgeting tricks.

Still, the Department of Human Services is expected to find $25 million in savings by making sure people on public programs are eligible to be on them. And an additional $65 million will be saved by effectively increasing how much MinnesotaCare enrollees pay for coverage.

The bill also puts more than $40 million into mental health programs and gives nursing homes a $138 million boost to help pay employees more – something Republicans have been pushing for since the start of the session.

Even though legislators were weighing major changes to MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange, many of those changes were abandoned. Instead, they opted to release premium rates for plans sold on the exchange earlier, and to require the state to request a federal waiver to allow anyone who qualifies for federal subsidies to help cover the cost of a plan to get them even if they buy coverage off the exchange.

Transportation 

Remember all that big talk about a new gas tax? DFLers dropped their proposal to increase the gas tax to pay for road and bridge construction under pressure from Republicans. There’s also no metro area sales tax increase to fund transit.

Instead, legislators passed a “lights on” status quo transportation bill that includes increases fines for texting while driving.

It also includes $5 million for transit in Greater Minnesota, and $5 million for rail grade crossing safety. More than $12 million will help small towns improve their roads.

State government 

The $974 million funding bill for state offices includes nearly $15 million for the Senate and nearly $3 million for the House.

The bill will also repeal the state’s political contribution fund for two years, and it will allow counties to outsource annual audits rather than use the State Auditor’s office, a provision State Auditor Rebecca Otto says should lead the governor to veto the bill.

Judiciary and public safety 

This bill puts about $2 million into the state’s courts and prisons systems.

That includes a 4 percent pay increase for judges and court staff, as well as more than $6 million for more public defenders.

Another $11 million will go to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to hire more forensics specialists and to create a financial crimes unit to investigate things like identity theft and fraud.

The bill has one provision opposed by Dayton: It allows people to equip their guns with silencers.

A provision that would have restored the right to vote to felons as soon as they were released from prison did  not make it into the final version of the bill.