Daily Digest: Standoff threatens big bills at Capitol

Good morning. We’ve made it to Thursday as days run out in the legislative session. Here’s the Digest.

1. Things are not going well at the Capitol. With a midnight Sunday deadline looming, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders spent Wednesday talking at each other rather than negotiating an end-of-session deal. Republicans in the Minnesota Senate passed the tax bill negotiated with the House and sent it to the governor without his approval. The vote was 34-33 along party lines. The bill would reduce income tax rates and better align the state tax code to recent federal changes. But before the debate began, Dayton told reporters he plans to quickly veto the bill so that another version can be negotiated. “I hope they’ll agree to include my emergency school aid as part of that tax bill, and then we can negotiate the rest of it. They can pass something, and I’ll sign it. But it depends on their willingness to compromise and meet me midway.” Dayton wants $138 million for school districts that are struggling financially. He suggested some of the money could come from the tax breaks Republicans want for businesses. (MPR News)

2. Special education costs are contributing to schools’ fiscal difficulty. One big driver of school shortfalls is special education. The category accounts for one-fifth of general-fund education spending in Minnesota, and the cost is rising. Districts spent a total of $2.2 billion on special education last year, an increase of 26 percent over a decade even after adjusting for inflation. Special education touches families in every part of the state. In total, 141,237 students receive the services for a wide range of reasons, including physical impairments, learning disabilities and behavioral issues. More students are receiving special education services than in the past. In 2016, 16.1 percent of Minnesota students received the services, up 1.3 percentage points over a decade. But it’s not just that more students need help. The cost per student of delivering that help has also increased. (MPR News)

3. Simon urges lawmakers to pass clean election security bill. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is asking lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow his office to tap into federal funds for election cyber security. The funding, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump nearly two months ago, provided hundreds of millions of dollars in state grants to increase security on election systems. Minnesota’s total share of those funds is nearly $6.6 million, but Simon said his office needs $1.5 million immediately to hire three coders for the next four years to tighten security on state voter registration systems. Other states were able to immediately use the funding, but Minnesota law requires legislative authorization first. Simon said a House budget bill would authorize the funding, but the proposal is not moving in the Senate. Lawmakers can’t pass bills after midnight Sunday.  “I served in the Legislature for 10 years. I have seen many good and popular things wither and die in the last few days of session,” said Simon, a Democrat who previously served in the state House. “But I also know that election security is a top priority.” (MPR News)

4. Dayton vetoes ultrasound bill. Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would have required Minnesota physicians to tell pregnant women they have the option of viewing an ultrasound before having an abortion. The Democratic governor vetoed the bill Wednesday after it passed the Legislature largely on party lines last week. Several Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the measure. Opponents said the bill was an attempt to stifle women’s access to abortions and would undermine how doctors interact with their patients. Dayton said he objected to interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. Supporters argued the bill would give women more information before deciding to have an abortion. (AP)

5. State officials object to proposed federal research limits. Minnesota’s top health and environmental officials sent a blistering letter Wednesday to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charging that its controversial plan to impose broad new restrictions on the types of scientific research it uses to craft regulations will cause confusion, mistrust and “threaten the lives of real people.” “EPA should withdraw this dangerous proposal,” wrote John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Jan Malcolm, state health commissioner. It is the most forceful public criticism that Minnesota officials have issued since Administrator Scott Pruitt began imposing sweeping reversals of long-held EPA regulatory policies. Stine characterized the letter as “speaking truth” to the agency. An EPA spokesperson did not comment on the letter but said the agency welcomes public comment. (Star Tribune)

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