Minnesota lawmakers could be spending part of their Christmas week at the Capitol.
Top legislators and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton have circled Dec. 20 — give or take a day — as the target date for a special session on health care cost relief and passage of overdue tax and construction bills. They haven’t nailed down all of the details but the state leaders said after a meeting Friday that they’re close.
“We’ve seen in the past with discussions about special sessions that the details are determinative and not always favorable, but we’ll see what happens this time and we’ll go from there,” Dayton said after the hourlong discussion with a bipartisan assembly of legislators and key staff.
“I’ve been in the room when the deal happens and I feel like I can see it,” said Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt. “I don’t know we’re quite there yet.”
Top on the to-do list is a rebate plan for people who buy health insurance on the individual market and are experiencing steep increases in premiums. Dayton has proposed a 25 percent rebate for those who aren’t eligible for other subsidies, a plan that could cost up to $300 million. But Republicans insist that issues with dwindling access to providers in some parts of the state also be addressed.
The other two docket items are holdovers from the 2016 session, when the Legislature and Dayton failed to complete a tax plan with various relief elements and a borrowing bill to finance public works projects.
Daudt said it makes sense to have those on the agenda.
“I look at it as we still have two pieces of unfinished business from last year,” Daudt said. “And I’ve actually been an advocate for having a special session including those two pieces. Because I want to get last year’s business wrapped up, so on January 3rd when we come in for our next session with a little different-looking Legislature, we can start with a clean slate.”
The outgoing Minnesota Senate majority leader says dozens of public construction projects would be dealt a setback if the Legislature doesn’t meet in a special session.
Democrat Tom Bakk of Cook and his party will be in the minority starting in January, and borrowing bills require super-majorities to pass. The conventional wisdom is that bonding bills will be slimmer once Republicans assume total control.
“I do think if we don’t get this billion dollars of construction out the door, it’s pretty unlikely in a budget year that we’re going to put together a billion dollar bonding bill at the end of session, very unlikely based on my experience here,” Bakk said, adding that it is important to “close the loop” for lawmakers who worked hard to advance their proposals last session.
Republican House leaders say they’re on board with including tax-cut and construction bills in a potential special session.
One lingering question? Where the session would be held. The under-construction Capitol isn’t due to be open for occupancy until January, so the Legislature could have to meet in temporary quarters in their respective office buildings if the renovation timeline isn’t accelerated.