Minnesota’s 2021 legislative session convened on January 5th. Once again Minnesota was the only state in the nation in which two chambers of its legislature are controlled by different political parties - the Senate by the Republicans, the House the DFL.
The 2021 legislature’s single most important task was to pass a biennial budget for the State of Minnesota presumably by May 17th, the constitutionally required deadline. While passing a budget in normal years is anything but easy the circumstances of the COVID shutdown meant legislating with many members working and voting remote from the Capitol. Additionally, with public access to the Capitol not allowed there was less daily input from the public than typical. Of course, avoiding a special session and even more important a government shutdown was at the top of the list of everyone’s priorities as the year proceeded.
To the surprise of most, when the February financial forecast arrived, the state found itself in surprisingly strong economic shape thanks to the beginnings of quicker-than-expected financial recovery even though the shutdown was still in effect. By March and April, the House and Senate had each adopted their own budget proposals, conference committees were appointed and the hard work of finding compromise between themselves and the Governor had begun.
Regrettably as days and weeks passed into May, optimism that the legislature could finish its work faded with each passing day. Lawmakers wondered aloud when they would receive the budget targets that affix the amount they may spend from leaders to complete their budget bills. That hold up of budget targets was caused by the large global disagreements between the Republican Senate and DFL House and Governor. It wasn’t until the last day of the regular session that leaders and the Governor announced a “global budget agreement” to be implemented through a special session. That ten point “global agreement” provided the necessary budget target but left the enormous and important amount of detail to Conference Committees for them to settle. Two new deadlines to complete detail work were established: May 28th for budget spreadsheets and June 4th for policy. The goal was to have both pieces done before the legislature reconvened in a special session on June 14th. Unfortunately, aside from the Legacy and Higher Education budget committees, there was limited resolution prior to the established deadlines.
When special session began, there were still a number of crucial issues that needed to be sorted out. Slowly but surely, the first agreements began to appear. By the middle of the week, both the House and Senate were scheduled to hear the Commerce, Higher Education, and Legacy Omnibus bills. The Jobs and Workforce Development omnibus, as well as the Taxes bill were introduced later in the week.
Both chambers, while overcoming 20-plus hours of filibuster, were able to pass the Legacy and Higher Education bills, which are now on the way to Governor Tim Walz’s desk for signature. There are still a number of bills awaiting introduction or debate in each house, including: the Health and Human Services Omnibus, the Tax Omnibus, and the Public Safety Omnibus. With just under two weeks until the end of the state’s fiscal year, and the possible shutdown still looming, leaders remain optimistic they’ll be able to complete their work on time.
For the most up-to-date information on potential state government shutdown, including unemployment and health insurance benefit information visit mn.gov/mmb/be-ready-mn
For those of you who may need additional support during this time, please remember that there are resources available to you. The Employee Assistance Program’s provider, LifeMatters, is available to all employees. This confidential and complimentary benefit is available to all employees at any time at 651-259-3840 or 1-800-657-3719 or at www.mylifematters.com