Legislative Update – August 2020

Buck McAlpin, Legislative Consultant

The Minnesota Legislature began the second special session of the 91st Legislature on Monday, July 13th, with hopes of striking a deal on a public works package, police reform, and tax breaks. Little was accomplished that day, with no indication of compromise on key bills. The day concluded with plans for both the House and Senate to work independently until the next planned meeting, July 20th, with the intent to have multiple deals on the table to discuss. After working separately for a week, the House and Senate reconvened and reached a deal on police reform, but failed to pass a public works/bonding package or tax breaks.

House and Senate legislators remained optimistic that a police reform bill would be on its way to Governor Walz’s desk by the close of the 2nd special session that day. However, as the day dragged on, this optimism waned, and right before the two bodies reconvened around 11 p.m. last night, it was unclear if a deal on police reform had been made during behind-the- scenes negotiations. When the House reconvened late into the night, it was finally revealed that a compromise to strengthen police accountability was made. Among other major provisions, the bill includes a chokehold ban, prohibits warrior-style training, requires autism training, and increases reporting for the use of force. The bill was passed by both bodies and is on its way to the governor’s desk. This comes two months after the death of George Floyd.

In an attempt to garner enough votes to pass the two other major bills, an unprecedented deal was proposed that placed the bonding bill and a tax cut in the same bill. House Speaker Melissa Hortman cited political reasons for the decision: Republicans do not want a bonding bill that is too costly, and Democrats lack support for the tax bill. Historically, these two bills have been passed individually, resulting in some legislators questioning the bill’s constitutionality. These questions went largely unanswered because the bill failed to get the 60 percent majority needed to pass in the House.

Senate Republicans spent much of the second special session focusing on Governor Walz’s decision to extend his emergency powers. Senate Republicans were quick to adopt a resolution to end the governor’s emergency powers, clashing with House Democrats who are likely to leave the decree alone until at least August. The primary reason for the Republican’s proposal to rescind Governor Walz’s emergency powers was a concern that Governor Walz would prevent the reopening of schools, with numerous Senators airing their concerns about the quality of education that remote learning provides. The Senate also adopted a resolution urging Governor Walz to exclude public schools from any further executive orders, which would allow schools to reopen in the fall. The Governor did release another Executive order to much opposition of the Senate Republicans that leave the opening of schools up to the Local School Boards. Of course, the new Executive order from the Governor did include guidelines for the School Board to consider when re-opening around active Covid infections on the district.

On the other side of the aisle, House Democrats passed a resolution that declares racism to be a public health crisis in Minnesota. Among other initiatives, the resolution calls upon the Minnesota Legislature to dismantle racism by working to improve public confidence in equitable administration of public safety and setting measurable goals to advance racial equity.

Again, the inability of the divided legislature to accomplish any compromise on key issues has stalled any meaningful reform from moving forward.
Also, the legislature and the Governor continue to make no movement on any type of protection for Health Care providers working in the Covid-19 space. At this point if we expect coverage, we may need Federal legislative support.

As the November election approaches the fundraisers continue to intensify. The fundraisers are basically in a remote-zoom format. We continue to discuss at the MNACEP Board the best way to participate remotely from the PAC fund.

The legislature is meeting on a monthly basis in Special Sessions to continue and vote on removing the Governors Peacetime Emergency Powers. The Republican Senate votes on party lines to remove and House DFL supports the Governor leading to a month stale mate.

This process will continue until the regular Session begins next January or the Governor declares the Pandemic-Peacetime Emergency over.