Larry RedmondRedmond Associates
The 2017 Minnesota Legislative Session is now a month and a week old. Similar to most first years of the biannual Legislative Session this month of January has been busy with legislators becoming reacquainted and establishing relationships with new colleagues. Unlike most Sessions this year has brought a new Republican majority to the Senate and an increase to the size of the Republican majority in the House. Change at the Capitol is much evident. Of course, the 2017 Session is also marked by the excitement of a much improved, restored, and refreshed Capitol building. Whether navigating the new power structures of the Legislature or the Capitol hallways and offices this has been a month for learning a new environment.
January was primarily consumed with negotiations between the Legislature and Governor Dayton over new legislation responding to the recent high premium increases in the individual health insurance market. A compromise between Governor Dayton and the Legislature has been reached. Nevertheless, we can count on more time to continue to be devoted to health care issues as the Session moves on.
Legislative Budget Committees have and are in the process of holding overviews of Departments and Agencies now with the benefit of the Governor's recently released budget recommendations. The next major budget event will be at the end of this month with the release of the annual "February Revenue Forecast". After that revenue forecast's release the Legislative pace will greatly increase. Legislative budget committees must complete their work by March 31 after which the full Senate and House will each deliberate on their respective 2018-19 budget bill. After the completion of those deliberations each legislative body's budget bill will then move to the Conference Committee phase of the Session where differences will be worked out. The Conference Committee phase will also be a moment when the Dayton Administration will increasingly indicate to the Legislature what is and is not acceptable to the Governor. We can expect April and May to be complicated and vigorous as budget negotiations between the House and Senate and the Governor are played out.
The Constitutional deadline for adjournment of the 2017 Legislative Session falls on Monday, May 22nd. Hopefully reasonable and appropriate budget compromises will be reached by then and we will not see a need for the Governor to call a Special Session or worse the risk of a state shutdown resulting from a failure to secure a state budget. It is now much too early for me to make predictions about either; I also prefer to be hopeful.
Along the way of the budget process there are many other important bills that may find an opportunity for passage this year. Significant among them are a possible Tax and Bonding bill. No matter what merit either of these bills might offer unlike the Budget bill neither of these are required to be enacted in order for the State of Minnesota to carry on it's business as normal.
Last year both of these two bills fell victim to the final days of intense negotiations. During literally the final minutes of the 2016 Session the Bonding bill was approved by the House but then only minutes later failed to pass the Senate. The Tax bill was passed by both the House and Senate but then vetoed by Governor Dayton on grounds that a certain provision contained significant technical errors that could not be allowed.
This year the hallways of the Capitol are filled with speculation as to whether a Tax and or Bonding bill will be enacted. At least within the Legislature approval of a Tax bill seems very likely but whether it will meet the approval of the Governor is a question to be answered ; the passage of a Bonding bill remains an open and complicated question. The answer to speculation on either may be tied to budget negotiations and perhaps other major issues including transportation, health care, education, energy and the environment.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly there are clearly forces at play that may attempt during the 2017 Legislative Session to make systemic changes to how and even if collective bargaining units can participate in Minnesota's public processes or represent their members. In addition, this is the year to bargain new labor contracts, any such contract must be approved by the legislature to be implemented (although after the session is over, a tie by the committee would implement the contract, the committee is no longer evenly split between democrats and republicans so a tie is unlikely). Middle Management Association is diligently watching for legislation affecting the right to bargain, public employee's pensions and labor contracts. We will be vigilant to see that you are represented in any such deliberations of and at the Legislature.
Hang on tight, in some ways the Legislative Session is only now beginning.