MN Lawmakers nearing deadline, special session

On the last day of the 2017 session people gathered on the newly reopened loggia, a second floor outdoor space on south side of the Capitol. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

The prospects for a special session were growing by the minute Monday afternoon at the state Capitol, where lawmakers face a midnight deadline to finish their work.

Negotiations between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders continued behind closed doors. But agreements on some of the biggest parts of the budget, including K-12 education and health and human services (HHS), remained out of reach with little time left to process those massive finance bills.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said they might miss the deadline.

“At this point, I think it’s more likely that we’ll have maybe agreement on everything by the end of the day, but not necessarily be able to actually have the staff process all the paperwork needed by the end of the day. So, we might need and extra day.”

Knoblach said the HHS bill has been slowed by its overall complexity. He said the K-12 bill remains hung up over early childhood education issues.

Bill on taxes, transportation and bonding are also still in play, although those bills, unlike the budget, would not force a special session if they don’t pass by midnight.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, the chair of the House tax committee, said he was still optimistic about a tax bill.

“We’re hoping that the governor’s office can step forward and show some leadership here and get this moving,” Davids said.

It remains unclear whether Dayton will sign any of the bills that lawmakers pass before midnight. His press secretary said the governor wants to “see what a global agreement might look like before making decisions on individual bills.”

Dayton had not made any public comments about the end-of-session maneuvering since a Sunday morning television interview.

During an afternoon conference committee meeting to close up the public safety/judiciary bill, DFL lawmakers complained about a provision in the bill that would prevent unauthorized immigrants from obtaining drivers’ licenses. It was a provision removed from the Real ID bill to secure its passage.

“I would have voted for the bill without that in there,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. “With that in there, I have to vote against the bill, and I’m not going to sign the conference committee report.”

Latz said negotiators added the provision in exchange for the removal of a provision to toughen penalties against highway protesters.

The chief House sponsor of the protest measure, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, confirmed the late-night deal. Zerwas said he will try again next year.

“Obviously, I’m very frustrated by that turn of events,” Zerwas said.