2020 Legislative Begins Today
When last we saw the Legislature in action, members passed a nearly $50 billion budget — mostly in a special session — to keep the state operating until mid-2021.
So what must be done in the 2020 session that started at noon Tuesday, February 11 and must end by May 18? Nothing.
Although both sides of the aisle have publicly stated a desire to address issues such as bonding, affordable housing, insulin affordability/availability and transportation, many divisions exist in those and a number of other areas such as what to do with a projected $1.3 billion surplus, child care spending, gun control, recreational cannabis and transit safety.
In an interview last week, House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said there is unfinished business from 2019 that should be looked at in 2020.
“We have to work on the insulin bill probably first and foremost as an initial matter; we have to take up a capital investment bill to try and catch up on a lot of the projects and conditions that need to be fixed around the state of Minnesota,” added House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) in a separate interview. He also mentioned prescription drugs, health care costs and school achievement inequities as wants.
“Where we agree, Senate Republicans will move bills forward,” Senate Majority leader Gazelka (R-Baxter) said. “Minnesotans want government to work well and with bipartisan cooperation. That doesn’t include spending every penny of the surplus, borrowing to the brink, or massive new programs like mandatory paid leave. We’ll push our priorities, and so will others, but ultimately if there isn’t broad bipartisan agreement, it’s not going to successful this session.”
A couple of issues to watch:
House Democrats have said that they would support the largest “responsible” bonding bill the state could afford while still maintaining its AAA bond rating. The state has the capacity to borrow $3.5 billion without hurting its AAA bond rating, House Capital Investment Committee Vice Chairman Fue Lee (DFL-Minneapolis) said.
Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a bonding package of more than $2 billion citing a record number of requests for assistance from around the state and favorable economic conditions that he says makes 2020 the time to act on many of them.
His “Local Jobs and Projects Plan” includes:
- $673 million – public safety and asset preservation;
- $536 million – quality of life;
- $447 million – higher education;
- $293 million – water quality and infrastructure; and
- $276 million – safe and affordable housing.
Health and human services
Republicans in the Senate want to take a hard look at the structure of the Department of Human Services after a series of resignations and overpayments of federal funds. The proposals could restructure and break up the massive agency. It’s something Walz and Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead have said they might consider.
The DHS has acknowledged the agency was to blame for errors that led to overpayments of tens of millions of dollars in federal funds to counties and two tribes. Walz wants to help cover those costs using the state’s budget surplus. Republicans have said they first need to see some changes to the structure and accountability at the DHS.
House Democrats support a proposal that requires all state employers to provide paid parental leave, but Senate has said they are worried about the effect on small businesses.
Republicans say the state’s projected surplus is reason to reduce taxes for Minnesotans. Republican Senate wants to fully exempt Social Security income from state income taxes and update state tax law to allow businesses and farms to deduct more capital purchases. House Democrats said only people at the upper end of the income scale have their Social Security benefits taxed. The Republicans’ proposal “is a tax cut for the wealthy and it is not one that’s needed,”.
House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), meanwhile, is proposing legislation to repeal the 1.8% “provider tax” on medical services and procedures. The tax, which funds health care services as well as other state programs, was set to sunset at the end of 2019. Lawmakers voted to renew it at a slightly lower rate as part of a budget deal last May.
Insulin–Lawmakers have been working behind closed doors since the 2019 session ended in May to reach an agreement on an emergency insulin package to help people with diabetes who cannot afford the drug. But they have deadlocked on drug manufacturers’ role in paying for the program.
Recreational Marijuana–House Democrats have been traveling the state holding hearings on recreational marijuana and plan to introduce a legalization bill this session. Senate Republicans have said they are OK with access to marijuana for medicinal purposes, and would look at decriminalization, but opposes any legislation that would be a path to legal recreational use.