Good morning, and welcome to Thursday. Here’s the Digest.
1. It’s Thursday but still no special session. Minnesota legislators are starting Thursday without a special session scheduled, but with many more details in hand about the bills they must pass. Although leaders had hoped to schedule their session for today, Gov. Tim Walz has not yet announced when he will call lawmakers back to pass the budget measures that were unfinished when the regular session ended. In an email to legislators and staff on Wednesday, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the earliest a special session could start would be Friday. In preparation for the special session, lawmakers held a series of informational hearings Wednesday on most of the unresolved budget bills. The House and Senate held separate hearings. Among the agreements: A tax plan that will lower the 2nd income tax bracket to 6.8 percent beginning this year and freeze a statewide property tax levy for businesses. An education spending bill that will give schools 2 percent more for every student in each year along with help dealing with soaring special education expenses. And a public safety budget that includes funding for about 70 new corrections officers. (MPR News)
2. Some things that didn’t happen and some that did. Many of the hot button policy provisions debated earlier in the year were dropped in the final bills rolled out Wednesday. Among them: Democrats failed to persuade Republicans to adopt stricter gun laws, including expanded background checks and so-called red-flag gun seizures. And Republicans failed to persuade Democrats to accept any expansions of gun rights. Republicans’ attempts to further restrict abortion failed. And Democrats’ attempts to gain driver’s licenses for Minnesotans living without legal citizenship papers failed. But other measures did survive: On Wednesday, Walz signed into law a sweeping set of regulations for assisted-living facilities and protections for older Minnesotans that include the right of residents at elder-care centers to install cameras in their rooms. And on Wednesday, an agreement was announced to pay $13 million for license center operators who lost money as a result of the state’s troubled computer system for vehicle tabs and titles known as MNLARS. If Walz were to call a special session for Friday, it remained unclear whether lawmakers could finish in one day, run into the Memorial Day weekend, or possibly break for the weekend and resume next week. (Pioneer Press)
3. Attempt to officially rename lake fails. House DFL lawmakers dropped a proposal to officially recognize a south Minneapolis lake by its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska, as officials scrambled Wednesday to wrap up a state budget agreement. Democrats wanted to use the two-year state spending plan to wade into an ongoing legal battle over what to call the popular body of water. The issue emerged in late April, after the Minnesota Court of Appeals invalidated a state Department of Natural Resources decision to strip the name of former Vice President John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery and instrumental figure in the Indian Removal Act. According to the court, authority to take such action rests with the Legislature. Democrats in the House approved language restoring the indigenous name as part of a late April budget vote. But the provision, opposed by the Republican-controlled Senate, was left out of the final text of an environmental budget bill released Wednesday. “That was an item that the GOP Senate absolutely would not take,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, an American Indian legislator who had fought for the change. (Star Tribune)
4. Money will go to try to stop spread of CWD. Since Minnesota’s legislative session began in January, the slow creep of chronic wasting disease has only progressed. Now, top lawmakers say they have a response to better contain the highly contagious and fatal brain illness among the state’s deer population. Minnesota is poised to impose tougher regulations on deer hunters and farmers while spending more money on research and prevention efforts as a centerpiece of the budget deal being finalized by Senate Republicans and House DFLers on a conference committee focused on the environment and natural resources. The CWD legislation was a top priority for both political parties in the Legislature’s environmental committees, although they differed how hard to crack down on deer farmers. The disease response was celebrated by DFLers and Republicans alike this week along with a deal to raise more money to fight aquatic invasive species, among other policy and spending initiatives. On CWD, “we’ll truly be able to show a compromise that all three branches of government can support,” said Bob Meier, an assistant commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, referring to the House, Senate and governor’s office. (MinnPost)
5. Election security money on the way. Minnesota legislative leaders came to terms Wednesday on a long-delayed plan to use federal election security money that had been tied up in a bitter partisan fight over voter fraud and foreign cyber attacks. After lawmakers failed to agree earlier on a measure to free up more than $6.6 million in federal funds approved by Congress in 2018, the money will now be part of the broader state government funding agreement between Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. Some GOP lawmakers had sought to limit the funding for cybersecurity in favor of voter fraud measures that have been a central focus of President Donald Trump. Democrats accused Republicans of downplaying the threat of cyber intrusions in state voting systems despite evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. (Star Tribune)