Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has a politically divided legislature, a DFL controlled House and a Republican controlled Senate. The gulf between the budget bills passed in each of the legislative bodies will require negotiation and compromise. Both legislative bodies have been working to have budget bills passed by May 1.
The DFL has included two gun control measures in its Public Safety bill passed April 29. One measure will expand background checks to gun shows and other private transfers. The second measure, red flag warning, will allow law enforcement to ask a court to grant removal of firearms on a temporary basis from individuals deemed to be a “threat to themselves or others.”
The Republican controlled Senate is not expected to support the gun control measures.
The House Public Safety bill also bans private prisons in the state and has a provision that allows convicted felons to vote once they have paid their debt to society.
The House Transportation bill passed April 29 includes a proposal from Governor Tim Walz for a 20 cent increase in the gas tax. The tax will provide a consistent and sustainable revenue source to maintain and improve the state’s roads and bridges. The current gas tax is 28.5 cents per gallon and has not been raised for five years. The 20 cent tax increase is to be imposed over four years, a 5 cent increase per year. In the succeeding years the gas tax is to be linked to inflation. The bill is asking for $7.2 billion in new spending.
The Senate wants to use existing revenue and some of the state’s one billion dollar surplus to pay for road and bridge improvements. Rep. Greg Davids (R) insists the 70% increase in the gas tax will be harmful, especially to low income folks. Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL) maintains there is a serious problem with roads and a lack of transit in the state that require more resources. The proposal for a gas tax increase is going to run into real resistance in the Senate.
The $15 billion omnibus Health and Human Services funding bill (2020-2021 biennium) passed by the House on April 25 extends the 2% provider tax which helps pay for MinnesotaCare, a health care option for the working poor. The provider tax produces about $7 million in revenue annually and funds the Health Care Access Fund. The House adds spending and includes an expansion of MinnesotaCare to OneCare, which the governor has proposed as a public option health care plan. The bill also will change the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
The Minnesota Farmers Union has expressed support for the OneCare plan. The public option will allow farmers and other individuals that purchase health care on the individual market another option, a public option or an alternative to private health insurance. This also could increase competition affecting private insurance plans.
The Senate Health and Human Services bill would let the 2% provider tax expire at the end of the year. The Senate bill seeks to slow growth of the Department of Human Services. It does not provide for the governor’s OneCare public option. It also eliminates dental coverage for adults on Medicaid or MinnesotaCare. It includes a measure which will prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, which will likely not survive during negotiations with the House.
Education proposals also are an area of disagreement between the Senate and the House. The House has proposed an increase in the per pupil formula by 3% in 2020 and 2% in 2021. The Republicans have proposed a .5% increase in the per pupil formula for each of the next two years.
In a rare instance of agreement, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to remove a loophole in state law which has not allowed a spouse or domestic partner to be prosecuted for criminal sexual conduct against one’s partner or spouse. The House passed a like bill in February. Walz is expected to sign the marital rape law.
Conference committees from both the House and the Senate will meet to negotiate the differences in their bills; the end of session deadline is May 20.