Daily Digest: Special session set to begin today

Good morning, and welcome to the Friday before Memorial Day.

Gov. Tim Walz has called a special session starting at 10 this morning.  “I am proud that we came together across party lines to build a budget that will improve the lives of Minnesotans,” Walz said. “Now it’s our responsibility to take that budget across the finish line.”

Walz, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka have agreed that the session will end by 7 tomorrow morning. But Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt didn’t agree.

“The governor is apparently expecting legislators to vote on thousands of pages of bills that legislators haven’t had time to read. One of the bills doesn’t even exist yet. At this time, there are no agreements in place with the House Republican caucus regarding tomorrow’s special session,” Daudt said last night, noting that the Democrats need Republican help to make it a one day session and to pass a bonding bill.

So, let’s check the Digest to set the scene for whatever happens next.

1. What’s in and what’s out? The details have come in slowly, sometimes on a single sheet of paper with notes and signatures hastily scrawled across it. But the particulars of the global deal on a new two-year $48 billion state budget agreed to by the governor and top legislative leaders are finally rolling in. Nothing’s final until lawmakers pass the proposals, but here’s what we know survived — and what didn’t — in final negotiations between Walz, Hortman and Gazelka. Among the items that made it: More money for local governments; a task force to look into missing and murdered indigenous women; and funding for election security and census planning. Among the items that didn’t: Tax breaks for people who contribute to scholarship funds; drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants; and a paid family leave system for workers whose employers don’t offer it. (MPR News)

2. Budget details draw complaints. As pieces of the budget plan have emerged, the decisions made by leaders in private have lawmakers from both parties, groups with a stake in the proposals, and other members of the public fuming. There are always people who are disappointed with the final product, but this year there are as many who are perplexed by how items fell away. Tommy Johnson of the Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars can’t understand how a justice measure supported by both prosecutors and public defenders got shelved. It would have provided a restorative justice pathway for more veterans whose troubles can be traced to their service. “This bill, had it been passed by the Senate, would have saved the state of Minnesota $1,307,000, according to the fiscal note,” Johnson said. Paul Spies is part of a coalition seeking to diversify the ranks of Minnesota teachers. He said the $20 billion agreement for education spending won’t do much for programs to get more teachers of color in classrooms. “We started the session with hope,” Spies told a committee during a hearing on the proposal. “Today, I’m here devastated and disillusioned.” Achievement gaps among white students and those of color will persist without dramatic action, Spies said. (MPR News)

3. Finger pointing after insulin measure vanishes. Heading into final budget negotiations, both the House and the Senate passed bills with overwhelming majority votes to start addressing the rising cost of insulin. The House and Senate positions differed slightly, but they had the same goal: establish an insulin manufacturer’s registration fee to help people pay for insulin when they can’t afford it on their own. That’s why Matt Little was so surprised on Thursday to hear the provision was nixed in closed-door negotiations on the health and human services budget. “We kind of thought the job was done because we got it in the budget bill and it had broad bipartisan support,” said Little, a DFL senator from Lakeville. The news first broke on Twitter: DFL House Health and Human Services Chair Tina Liebling tweeted that the Senate killed the bill in “final hours of negotiation.”  Senate Health and Human Services Chair Michelle Benson, a Republican, shot back: “You gave us a spreadsheet without insulin program on it. (First offer.) I didn’t notice, even in the several back and forth offers. We all closed the spreadsheet.”  “This is not about politics, this is about life and death for a lot of people,” Liebling said. “No Minnesotan should ever die from the lack of an essential drug that we have, that’s available, that they just can’t afford to buy it. We need to do whatever we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Benson said putting together the bill was challenging “for everyone involved.” “This cost of insulin has been turned into a political punching bag to the detriment of patients, and I find it disingenuous for Rep. Liebling to immediately blame others for a specific provision being left out of the bill,” she said. (MPR News)

4. Energy bill short circuited. Minnesota won’t join the handful of states that have passed laws aimed at 100 percent clean energy by 2050 — at least not this year. Negotiations over several issues — clean energy, lifting the state’s ban on new nuclear plants, funding for solar panels on schools and a range of other energy provisions — broke down between the state House and Senate this week, leaving a bare-bones budget and policy bill going into an expected special legislative session. “There were some small changes, [and] a little bit of work done on energy storage. That’s it,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who chairs the House climate and energy committee. “Nothing significant, nothing that moves us forward on clean energy.” The final version of the bill includes a provision initiating a $150,000 study looking at the costs and benefits of energy storage and requires utilities to assess storage as part of their planning for the future. It doesn’t include what had become Gov. Walz’s signature climate change provision, requiring all electricity generated in Minnesota to come from carbon-free sources by 2050. The House and Senate had vastly different bills, but negotiators weren’t able to settle on much of anything. “This energy section is an abomination, an absolute failure,” said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, who chairs the Senate energy committee. (MPR News)

5. Wage theft bill due for a vote. Minnesota lawmakers and labor groups hailed a bipartisan agreement Thursday to hold employers responsible for holding back workers’ wages, one of the nation’s firmest policies to beat back wage theft. For the first time, refusing to pay workers would be a felony under an agreement lawmakers plan to vote on in special session. The law would also broaden the state’s ability to prosecute employers in an effort to prevent the loss of an estimated $12 million in unpaid wages from roughly 39,000 Minnesota workers each year. “In my view it’s the best piece of policy legislation that’s going to pass and I’m very happy about it,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in an interview Thursday. Under the new law, wage theft in excess of $1,000 would become a felony crime. It would also penalize retaliation against employees who report wage theft. It also boosts the Department of Labor and Industry’s budget by nearly $4 million to expand prevention and inspection efforts. (Star Tribune)

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