With more budget vetoes, session and shutdown preparations begin

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces on Saturday, May 23, 2015, that he vetoed spending bills for several state agencies. A special legislative session will be needed to finish the state budget. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces on Saturday, May 23, 2015, that he vetoed spending bills for several state agencies. A special legislative session will be needed to finish the state budget. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed legislation funding state programs ranging from education to the parks, setting up a special legislative session and launching preparations for a potential partial government shutdown.

On Saturday, Dayton vetoed spending bills for agriculture, environment, jobs, economic development and energy. He already had rejected an education spending bill, meaning nearly $17.5 billion of the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget that begins July 1 lacks funding.

Talks to pass the rest of the state budget begin Tuesday afternoon when Dayton hosts House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

No one had a prediction about when a deal could be reached and, thus, when a special session could be scheduled. Dayton earlier said he would like one by mid-June.

Dayton said he will insist that lawmakers pass a public works finance measure, known as a bonding bill, and that they OK the “legacy bill” to fund outdoors and arts projects.

The Democratic governor said he will offer a $260 million income tax cut, for one year, as an attempt to get House Republicans to agree to his special session wants. Republicans had proposed to cut taxes $2 billion, but dropped it when they stopped a proposed Democratic gasoline tax increase.

The special session agenda is becoming more complicated and raising questions about how a deal can be done in slightly more than a month when answers to the same questions eluded lawmakers and Dayton the past five months.

If no deal among Dayton and four legislative leaders is reached by June 1, an unlikely goal, 10,288 state workers will receive notices indicating that they could be laid off in a month. On June 15, if no deal is reached, state parks will stop taking camping reservations, Dayton said.

The agencies that would have been funded in the vetoed bills could shut down July 1, short of a court order to remain open, if a special session has not approved money for them.

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said an “incident team” has been formed to plan for a potential partial shutdown.

Dayton and Frans were not predicting a shutdown but, like in the past when budgets were not passed on time, state officials begin to prepare for one just in case.

The Legislature adjourned Monday night, passing all eight budget bills. Dayton vetoed the education bill as soon as he could because it did not contain as much money as he wanted to pre-kindergarten education.

On Saturday, he tied his proposed tax cut to a $250 million boost in education funding, for his pre-kindergarten plan and to raise per-pupil funding 2 percent each of the next two years.

His new proposal would provide less money than the original one, and there would not be enough money for all schools to participate in the pre-kindergarten program at first.

Dayton said it was “very, very difficult” to veto the agriculture-environment bill because he supports $19 million for farmers dealing with avian flu and establishing specific requirements for buffers around state water.

However, he said that he opposes raiding money from some funds, delaying water quality standards and eliminating the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen’s Board.

Most of his complaint about the jobs-economic development-energy funding measure was lack of funding for several programs. He specifically mentioned $12 million the bill set aside to expand broadband Internet service in rural areas; he wanted $30 million.

Frans said he has not figured out how much more money Dayton needs to accept the budget bills.

Republicans were not happy with the vetoes.

“The DFL-led Senate and Republican-led House made every effort to accommodate his requests, including his highly publicized land buffer initiative,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

Lawmakers representing areas where turkey and chicken flocks have been affected by bird flu were especially hot.

“Playing politics with the lives of farmers who have been devastated by the avian flu is simply wrong,” Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said.

As the session was winding down, Rep. David Bly, D-Northfield, several times tried to get the House to pass avian flu funding to help farmers repopulate flocks and to receive mental help assistance as a stand-alone bill instead of one that wrapped together hundreds of agriculture and environment issues. Republicans opposed him.

House Environment Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said the governor’s office did not tell negotiators there were parts of their bill unacceptable to Dayton.

“It seems the governor’s version of compromise is his way or the highway,” McNamara said. “Moving forward from this veto, which blindsided us, will be difficult.”

Besides the two vetoes, Dayton on Saturday signed a bill funding a variety of state agencies. However, before calling a special session, he said that he will insist lawmakers during that session remove a provision in the bill that allows counties to hire private auditors to check their books instead of using the state auditor.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed 80 bills this year, the least since Minnesota became the state.

The year with the second fewest bills was 2002, with 131. It was Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s first term.

Legislators introduced 4,612 bills this year, about an average number.

Among bills Dayton has signed recently:

— Social workers who deal with children will be required to receive more training and undergo background checks. They also must investigate more cases than they do under current law.

— Environment and natural resources programs will receive $46 million from Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Some of the money will go to study water, endangered species and biodiversity issues. Other funds are destined for fighting invasive species, reducing erosion and buying park and trail land.

— Uber and Lyft transportation services will be required to carry liability insurance for their drivers.

— Motorists may use electronic devices to provide proof of insurance.

— The state will join a compact that will allow doctors to practice in other states.

— Relatives of someone who died may object to an autopsy based on religious beliefs. There are restrictions.

— Some flame retardant chemicals believed to cause cancer are banned from certain products.

— Law enforcement agencies will be able to keep personal license plate reader data 60 days, longer if it is part of a court case.

One of the environmental provisions Dayton did not support, and led to a veto, would have delayed the requirement to build sewage treatment plants near the Red River until 2025.

Legislators approved the delay because North Dakota and South Dakota allow far greater amounts of some pollutants into the water than does Minnesota. The delay was meant to give officials time to work with the federal government to even out the requirements.

Dayton said that even though the states to the west do allow more pollutants into the Red River, Minnesota has an obligation to keep the water as clean as possible. He said that Canadian officials have been complaining to him about the polluted water flowing north.

North Dakota allows 12 times the federal limit for some pollutants into the water, Dayton said, while Minnesota is closer to three times.

“We’re both in violation of the standards,” Dayton said of rules the federal Environmental Protection Agency sets.

Dayton promised to talk about the issue with North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and EPA officials to see if the two states could meet the same standards. He said one problem is that Minnesota and North Dakota are in different EPA regions and they enforce federal rules differently.

City officials on the Minnesota side of the Red say they are being forced to spend millions of dollars to build or improve sewage treatment plants, when North Dakota pollution continues to harm the river. Dayton said he needs more information to decide if the state should provide more financial aid to the cities.

In his other Saturday veto, Dayton said one reason he took down the jobs-economic development-energy bill was that he provided no funding for a court case in which Minnesota is trying to limit air pollution from North Dakota electricity-producing plants.

Special session agenda

Dayton said he will insist on these items being addressed in a special legislative session:

— Rewrite and pass an education funding bill.

— Rewrite and pass a spending bill for jobs, economic development and energy.

— Rewrite and pass an agriculture and environment funding bill.

— Overturn a just-passed provision that would allow private auditors to check county books.

— Pass a public works funding bill.

— Pass the “legacy bill” to fund outdoors and arts projects.

— Pass a $250 million one-year income tax cut.

 

Dayton signs four budget bills, three left

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton Friday signed half of the state’s budget bills into law.

On Thursday, he vetoed an education spending bill, leaving three more for him to sign or veto Saturday. He already vetoed one.

The bills are part of a package that would spend nearly $42 billion in the next two years.

The bills he signed are:

— Public safety and courts, which would spend $2.1 billion, up from $2 billion in the current budget.

— Higher education, spending $3 billion, compared to the current $2.9 billion.

— Health and human services, with $12.4 billion, down from the current $12.8 billion.

— Transportation, which would spend $243 million in state tax dollars, up from $213 million in this budget.

Some budget bills with controversial provisions remain: agriculture-environment, jobs-economic development-energy and legislation that funds a variety of state government agencies.

Much of the debate over the four bills Dayton signed was over what was not in the bills.

For instance, the transportation legislation basically continues current work. Democrats and Republicans came into the legislative session wanting to spend billions of dollars in the next decade, but the efforts died when Republicans rejected a new gasoline sales tax that Democrats wanted and Democrats turned down the Republican idea of taking money from other parts of the state budget to fund transportation.

The transportation bill will continue to fund some road and bridge projects and normal operation of the Department of Transportation, but there will not be as much construction as lawmakers wanted.

In higher education, the bill lacks the money to freeze all tuition at state-run colleges and universities. Instead, it will freeze two-year technical college tuitions.

Health and human services funding is enough to keep state subsidized insurance for the poor in the MinnesotaCare program, but those in the program may pay more for their care. The bill also keeps the MNsure health insurance exchange running as is, instead of giving it a new governing structure as many lawmakers wanted.

Also included in the bill is $138 million to increase nursing home funding.

Dayton has said he has issues with some provisions in the remaining three bills, but has not indicated whether he will veto any.

The state government funding measure includes a provision to let counties decide whether to have their books audited by the state auditor or a private firm. Dayton said he will require the Legislature to take that out of the bill when he calls them into special session.

Dayton also said he is looking into environmental and energy provisions he does not like, but said he cannot to veto every bill with isolated provisions he cannot support.

The governor already vetoed an education finance bill because it did not establish pre-kindergarten classes that he wanted.

The education veto alone likely will force a special session, and other vetoed bills could be taken up at the same time. There is general agreement that at least a basic public works funding bill and one funding outdoors and arts programs also should come in a special session.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he and Dayton will begin pre-special session negotiations on Tuesday. The session is expected in June, but no dates have been floated.

 

Education layoff notices coming

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin tell reporters on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, that they think the 2015 Minnesota Legislature was a success. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin tell reporters on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, that they think the 2015 Minnesota Legislature was a success. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota’s education funding dispute means more than 800 state education workers will begin receiving layoff notices June 1, with any actual layoffs not starting until July 1.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he regrets the need to upset workers’ lives, but state law requires that workers who could be laid off receive a month’s advance notice, even though if his education funding differences with lawmakers could be settled before July 1.

Democrat Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown each said on Wednesday that a special legislative session to fix the funding quarrel, and consider non-education bills, almost certainly would not be called before the layoff notices are mailed.

Dayton said he would veto the bill providing education $17 billion over two years. The Legislature-passed bill funding early childhood to high school programs does not contain his priority, funding a half-day of school for 4-year-olds.

Minnesota Management and Budget says that without an education bill when the new fiscal year begins July 1, the Education Department will shut down and many school funds would not be available.

However, the state could go to court as it did during 2011 and 2005 partial government shutdowns and ask a judge to declare that some employees and some funds are critical to the state and that they be allowed to continue even without a bill.

Four hundred people work for the Education Department.

The Dayton administration says also laid off would be 300 workers at the state academies for the deaf and blind and 120 at the Perpich Center for Arts Education without a signed education funding bill.

Also, the administration says that “major cuts” would be needed, including layoffs, at local schools if there is no legislation.

While the governor and legislative leaders have not predicted an extended education funding argument, the differences are deep and five months of a regular legislative session did not bridge them.

Plus, there may be different visions on other items that could come up during a special session. Those differences also could delay a special session start.

Daudt on Wednesday seemed to agree with Dayton on the need to call a special session to deal with education funding. The two also said a public works spending bill and legislation funding outdoors and culture projects should be considered. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, earlier backed considering those two measures.

Others want more on a special session agenda.

House Democratic Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said other budget bills should be reconsidered: “We have the opportunity to hit the reset button.”

Dayton discounted that idea, but said it could be the end of the week before he knows whether he will veto any spending bill other than education.

Thissen will have more of a say in special session decisions than he did during late regular session negotiations because Dayton plans to require all four legislative leaders — Bakk, Daudt, Thissen and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie — to sign an agreement outlining the agenda for a special session before he calls it.

The main dispute centers on early education funding. Dayton wants to spend $171 million for schools to be allowed, but not required, to start half-day classes for 4 year olds. Republicans and many Democrats prefer to put any new money to per-pupil funding that could be used for needs other than pre-kindergarten.

Daudt said pre-special session education negotiations should begin where they left off shortly before the Legislature adjourned at midnight Monday: with the two sides $25 million apart and no pre-kindergarten funding. To reach a deal, Dayton dropped his pre-kindergarten program in the last hour of session.

Dayton said he does not know where he and Daudt will begin negotiations, scheduled for Tuesday, but in talking to reporters the last two days he seemed to learn toward going back to his 4-year-old education stand.

Also Wednesday, Daudt demanded Dayton apologize for saying some Republicans “hate schools.” The governor refused, but said he would apologize if they vote for his pre-kindergarten plan.

Daudt and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, visited southern Minnesota communities Wednesday to promote what they call a successful regular session. Dayton has said he plans to hit the road next week to sell his pre-kindergarten proposal.

After he left a Rochester appearance, a local Democratic representative called for Daudt to resign, the Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported.

Rep. Rep. Tina Liebling accused Daudt of abusing his power and ignoring the democratic process, citing a chaotic ending of the legislative session featuring Democrats shouting at the speaker because they were told to vote without reading a 93-page bill they just received.

“This was a case of the majority, of the speaker who you just heard from, abusing his power, demonstrating an utter disdain for the democratic process and ramming through a bill that had not been read or considered,” Liebling said.

What to know about special session

Why? Special legislative sessions are called when the Legislature does not complete its work, needed bills are vetoed and must be repassed or an urgent need arises, such as a disaster.

This year? Gov. Mark Dayton says he will call a special session to pass an education funding bill more to his liking. But unlike many other years and other governors, Dayton hopes that lawmakers also will consider other items, perhaps including reversing provisions they approved in recent days.

Who? Only the governor can call a special session, but once the session begins legislators decide how long it lasts and what is debated.

When? Dayton said he will not call a session until he and four legislative leaders sign an agreement about what subjects will be brought up.

Purpose? In special sessions during the 2000s, five were to fund disaster relief and four were to finish passing budget bills.

Where? The state Constitution requires the Legislature to meet in St. Paul, but not necessarily in the Capitol. That is good this year because by the end of this week the Capitol will be fully shut down for renovation work. Legislative and administration officials are checking out other space.

Legislative overtime session may be full

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces he vetoed the education funding bill Tuesday, May 19, 2015. He said he will review other budget bills this week. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces he vetoed the education funding bill Tuesday, May 19, 2015. He said he will review other budget bills this week. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Note: A problem with the blog service used by Capitol Chatter prevented some stories from being posted earlier this week. Here is one.

Minnesota lawmakers could debate issues ranging from education to private accountants in a special session this spring or summer.

It has been apparent for days that legislators will be summoned back to pass an education funding bill more to Gov. Mark Dayton’s liking, but on Tuesday the governor said he would demand changes in at least one other bill and would like to see work on a range of other legislation.

Dayton planned to veto an education bill that passed in the final day of the regular session Monday sans his top priority of the year: $171 million to begin classes for 4 year olds in any school district that wishes it. The governor had a veto letter written Tuesday, well before it arrived in his office.

He said that the $17 billion, two-year education budget lawmakers passed is too small, considering a nearly $2 billion expected budget surplus.

Dayton detailed final-day negotiations with Republicans who control the House that failed to reach an education funding deal.

Throughout the day, Dayton said, he kept lowering his request and by day’s end even gave up on voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4 year olds.

“We were trying to spare taxpayers a special session,” he said. “I was going to do what I could to finish the session on time.”

Republicans rejected the offer, he said, which was just $25 million richer than what the GOP proposed.

“I think they have a lot to learn about how to compromise,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said.

Dayton said he will remove his last funding offer, but did not know where negotiations will begin for a special session.

Legislative Republicans and most Senate Democrats supported the bill that passed. It would have increased school funding but did not include money for pre-kindergarten.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he will examine Dayton’s education veto letter and would like to solve the dispute without a special session. He did not say how a special session could be avoided.

“Over the last five months, we have worked together with Senate Democrats to pass a bipartisan budget investing $400 million in new money into Minnesota classrooms including 1.5 percent and 2 percent on the general education formula and more than $60 million for early learning initiatives,” Daudt said.

One provision in a bill that passed Monday that Dayton said that he will insist be changed before he calls a special session would allow private auditors to examine counties’ finances. The bill passed by the House and Senate would allow counties to either let State Auditor Rebecca Otto do their audits or to hire a private accountant.

Dayton, a former state auditor, said the bill would allow counties to pick auditors who would be most favorable to the counties.

Otto has opposed the bill and sought Dayton’s veto, but on Tuesday Dayton said that instead of vetoing an entire bill he will insist that the just-passed bill be changed to eliminate the option of hiring private auditors.

The governor said he has not had a chance to examine other bills, but said he could consider using the same tactic for any provision he does not like. He also could veto bills, but said he will not know that until he has had a chance to examine them.

Some bills that did not pass both the House and Senate in the rushed final minutes before the Monday night adjournment also could be considered in a special session.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and Dayton said they would like to see a public works funding bill on the agenda. It could fund Capitol renovation needs that recently arose and recovery costs for last year’s flooding.

A special session also could take up the “legacy bill,” which uses a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008 to fund outdoors and arts projects. The $540 million bill passed the House not long before midnight Monday, but never made to the Senate.

Less likely, but still on Dayton’s list, is trying to increase transportation funding.

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said that he expects discussions on a transportation funding package to continue over the interim.

Democrats and Republicans agreed this year that billions of dollars in new money is needed for road and bridge construction, but it did not pass this year after Democrats called for it to be funded with a new gasoline tax while Republicans wanted the money to come from other state programs.

Interest groups on Tuesday began lobbying for their causes to be part of a special session. For instance, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities said it would be a good time to revive a dead tax bill that could increase state aid to cities.

An online lottery ban probably will not be part of a special session. Dayton announced Tuesday that he is allowing a bill to become law without his signature that orders the Minnesota State Lottery to end its use of games on the Internet and at fuel pumps.

The Minnesota Capitol press corps surrounds Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, just after the Legislature adjourned for the year. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The Minnesota Capitol press corps surrounds Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, just after the Legislature adjourned for the year. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Packed boxes sit atop Minnesota representatives' desks early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, as workers prepare to move everything out of the state House chambers before construction crews move in as part of a multi-year Capitol building restoration projects. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Packed boxes sit atop Minnesota representatives’ desks early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, as workers prepare to move everything out of the state House chambers before construction crews move in as part of a multi-year Capitol building restoration projects. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Bob Meyerson, chief Minnesota House sergeant at arms, wheels chairs out of the state House chamber early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, before workers move in as part of a Capitol building renovation project. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Bob Meyerson, chief Minnesota House sergeant at arms, wheels chairs out of the state House chamber early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, before workers move in as part of a Capitol building renovation project. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

House Chief Clerk Pat Murphy leans over to talk to Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing early Tuesday, May 19,2015, after the Minnesota Legislature adjourned for the year. Boxes on represenatives' desks are packed as workers prepare to clear the chamber as part of a Capitol building restoration effort. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

House Chief Clerk Pat Murphy leans over to talk to Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing early Tuesday, May 19,2015, after the Minnesota Legislature adjourned for the year. Boxes on represenatives’ desks are packed as workers prepare to clear the chamber as part of a Capitol building restoration effort. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

More money, unmet needs and high expectations meant problems

By Lee Ann Schutz, Session Daily

Chaos on the House floor in the minutes before Monday’s Minnesota Legislature adjournment may have been inevitable, according to lawmakers who were around in 2001, the last time there was a state budget surplus.

After more than 10 years of budget deficits, a projected nearly $2 billion surplus led to hopes of tax breaks, more money for education and repairs to the state’s roads. But when the House and Senate adjourned, some of those priorities were left on the table in an all-but-too-common messy, chaotic end of session.

What happened? Why, with a projected surplus, was it so difficult to come to a compromise on so many issues? Was it politics Republican-controlled House vs. a DFL Senate and governor? Or was it something else?

Seasoned lawmakers said it comes down to expectations.

Rep. Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, was in her seventh term the last time the state was flush with cash. She said there are a lot of expectations coming into a session when there is a projected surplus, and that people don’t clearly understand that the number is just that: a number, not money in the bank.

“When you begin with a public perception that it is already there, all the groups come out of the woodwork,” she said. “‘Give it back, you’ve collected too much taxes.’ Others say, ‘Thank goodness, now you can do more for education, health and human services.’”

But a February economic forecast upon which the budget is based is only a forecast. “And it was made before the Target layoffs, before the U.S. Steel and mining layoffs and before the avian flu crisis.”

The growing partisanship also could be felt with so much money in play.

Rep. Mary Murphy, D-Hermantown, said that, for her, legislating during surplus years is hard.

“Back in 2001, there wasn’t as much partisanship, in the sense that there were hopes that you could sometimes pass a bill without the lockstep approval or disapproval,” the 20-term Democrat said.

Murphy said the number of years the state has faced a deficit has taken its toll. “Keep in mind that in that other time, there weren’t as many years in a row where we had to cut, and cut, and cut. This has been 10 years of unfilled expectations.”

There’s that word again: “expectations.”  And it’s not only the legislators who have a hard time reining them in.

“I suppose it’s true that it’s harder to legislate during a surplus because the groups line up like crazy and they don’t do that when there is a deficit,” said Sandy Neren, who has lobbied at the Legislature since 1978. She concurred with Murphy that the pent-up demand leads to more pressure.

In times of deficit, she said that legislators just nod their heads and acknowledge a proposal as a “good idea,” and walk away because of lack of money. But in a surplus, the groups come back more forcefully hoping that their good idea will get funded.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, is the money man in the House, as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which sets the spending targets. He, too, was here for the last surplus.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easier to legislate during a deficit, because you have a lot of difficult decisions to make and people get hurt,” Knoblach said. “But, on the other hand, both parties realize that there isn’t money, and the only question is do you raise taxes or not.

“While, when there is a surplus, the Republicans will not want to spend it all, and the Democrats most probably will. So if anything, it’s harder with a surplus.”

And so session 2015 closed out with over $1 billion left unspent.

Session Daily is a nonpartisan online publication of Minnesota House Public Information Services at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/SessionDaily.

The session, issue by issue

051715 n mcb xgrsession chart

The Minnesota Legislature adjourned Monday, but potential vetoes and a looming special session could change some of what they accomplished. The following list includes the latest information about key issues.

Avian flu: About $19 million was approved for low-interest loans, mental health aid for farmers with flocks affected and unemployment payments for workers laid off from farms affected by the flu. More money is possible in a public works bill and other actions that could come in a special session.

Blue alert: Legislation was approved to establish a program to alert Minnesotans when a police officer is killed or seriously injured. Much like Amber Alert is used to find lost children. The system would be used to find suspects.

Body cameras: No final action was taken on proposals to regulate how long law enforcement departments may keep video from body cameras some officers wear.

Bonding: The House and Senate drew up public works financing bills in the $100 million range near the end of the regular session, but with no final agreement the issue most likely will be decided in a special session.

Broadband: Rural Minnesotans say they need access to high-speed Internet, known as broadband, like their city cousins enjoy, not just for home use but for businesses to be competitive. While spending up to $100 million was considered to help broadband expand, the final amount was $12 million.

Budget: A two-year budget, to begin July 1, was set at nearly $42 billion, up from the current $39 billion. Lawmakers left $1 billion in the bank for next year, with transportation construction and tax cuts two potential uses for it.

Buffers: Gov. Mark Dayton suggested requiring a 50-foot vegetation buffer around all bodies of water, an effort to cut water pollution. Agriculture groups opposed such an extensive requirement and a compromise resulted in a minimum 30 feet around public waters, 16½ feet around public drainage ditches and no requirement around private ditches. However, money needed to implement the law was in a bill lawmakers did not pass.

Capitol renovation: With the entire Capitol now closed for a three-year, $270 million renovation project, many lawmakers hope a special session results in a $30 million addition for security and other unexpected renovation needs.

Child protection: The governor signed legislation into law designed to improve child abuse investigations. It would put a focus on the child’s safety instead of keeping a family together.

Commissioner raises: An early-session dispute between Democrat Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, occurred when the governor gave his commissioners raises without telling legislative leaders for a month. The two renewed their friendship and a provision passed to revoke the raises, but it gives Dayton one day to reinstate them on July 1.

Disaster: Nearly $12 million was approved for June 2014 flood recovery efforts, with more possible if lawmakers pass a public works funding bill in a special session.

Drones: Legislation to limit unmanned aircraft use was debated, but a full drone regulation bill did not get a vote.

Education: More education money was approved, but the dispute that is leading to a special session is whether Dayton gets his wish to spend $171 million more to establish pre-kindergarten classes.

License plate readers: Law enforcement officials will be able to keep data 60 days, longer if the data could be part of a court case.

Lottery: The Legislature voted to ban instant-play online lottery games, as well as games at fuel pumps and elsewhere. Dayton let it become law without his signature.

Minimum wage: Republicans wanted to change how the minimum wage is figured for tipped workers, but it failed.

MinnesotaCare: Republicans wanted to move MinnesotaCare enrollees to other programs, saving the state money, Democrats won the battle to preserve the state-subsidized health insurance programs. However, cost for enrollees will rise.

MNsure: Members of both parties wanted to change how the state health insurance sales Website is run, but all that happened was ordering a study about how MNsure would be best governed.

Nursing homes: Nursing homes will get $138 million more, allowing them to raise workers’ pay. That should be especially helpful for rural nursing homes in retaining employees.

Parks: State park fees will increase.

Rail safety: Victim of a transportation funding plan meltdown, most rail safety proposals did not pass. However, about $5 million was included in a bill to upgrade rail crossings and establish emergency response teams in Duluth and St. Cloud to help at oil train accidents. More money could be approved in a special session.

Sex offenders: Even though a federal judge has told lawmakers they should take action to allow sex offenders to be released from a rehabilitation program where some are committed after serving their sentences, there was no serious action to change state law. Without a legislative change, the judge could take over the sex offender program as soon as this summer.

Sunday sales: Liquor stores will remain closed on Sundays, but efforts succeeded to allow Sunday refills of beer growlers.

Taxes: House Republicans wanted to cut taxes $2 billion over the next two years. That failed, but the GOP probably will try again next year.

Transportation: Legislators came into the session saying they wanted billions of dollars more for transportation programs. However, Republicans wanted to take money from other state programs and Democrats wanted to tack on a new gasoline tax, and no progress was made toward a compromise.

Tuition freeze: Some Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system students will see tuitions remain static, but legislators did not find enough money to freeze all tuitions at state-run colleges and universities.

 

Shouts, confusion end Minnesota legislative session

Minnesota Reps. Steve Green of Fosston (front) and Dave Hancock of Bemidji look at one of three computers on their desks in the House on Monday, May 18, 2015. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Reps. Steve Green of Fosston (front) and Dave Hancock of Bemidji look at one of three computers on their desks in the House on Monday, May 18, 2015. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The Minnesota Legislature ended early today amid shouts of “crooks’ and “shameful,” with plenty of confusion mixed in, as lawmakers failed to finish everything they wanted to do in 2015.

A special legislative session is expected after Gov. Mark Dayton’s promised veto of an education funding bill.

Lawmakers passed all the must-do spending bills for a $42 billion, two-year budget, but did not complete a public works funding bill or legislation to fund outdoors and arts projects.

Legislative leaders declared the session, which began Jan. 6, successful, although top Republican and Democratic priorities went undone.

House Republicans, who wanted to cut taxes $2 billion, lost that debate. Senate Democrats failed to get a new gasoline tax to finance transportation work. And Democrat Dayton did not get money for starting pre-kindergarten classes.

The House was in an uproar and the Senate slogging through a last-minute bill as the midnight constitutional adjournment deadline arrived.

“This is no way to make public policy,” Sen. Barb Goodwin, D-Columbia Heights, said at eight minutes before midnight after senators received a 94-page jobs, economic development and energy bill.

Senators passed the measure at two minutes before midnight, and a Senate worker ran it to the House.

The House approved it with many representatives not voting at a minute before midnight as the House speaker avoided eye contact with everyone and called for an immediate vote, refusing to acknowledge anyone wanting to speak.

Democrats shouted protests at House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

A minute after midnight, the Senate passed a public works funding bill, but the House already had adjourned and the measure will need to wait for a special session or next year.

The Senate adjourned at 12:02 a.m. today.

Right after the Legislature adjourned, workers began tearing up the House chamber as part of a three-year Capitol renovation project, making holding a special session difficult. Dayton suggested a session be held in a tent on the Capitol front lawn, an idea most lawmakers rejected.

There was no immediate Dayton comment about the future of the education bill and other budget legislation. But in the past few days he increased his rhetoric about vetoing the education bill and promising a special session.

Generally governors only call special sessions after they have signed agreements with legislative about what will be debated. However, once a governor calls a special session, lawmakers may discuss whatever they want.

Despite the rough ending, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said it was the most bipartisan session he has seen.

“Tonight the Legislature passed the final components of a two-year budget to keep Minnesota moving forward,” Bakk said. “Protecting MinnesotaCare from elimination, $138 million for nursing homes, and important new investments in education were significant accomplishments for the DFL Senate.”

Daudt also talked about being bipartisan.

“Republicans delivered for our students and our aging adults, and enacted dozens of innovative reforms to improve of the lives of Minnesota families,” the speaker said. “We proved we can work together, Republicans and Democrats, to do what’s right for Minnesotans. With broad bipartisan support behind this budget, House Republicans look forward to the governor signing our budget into law.”

Dayton has not given his feelings on most budget bills, although he has expressed discontent with specific provisions. However, Dayton has promised to veto the education bill because legislative leaders rejected his desire to educate 4 year olds.

Dayton wants $171 million added to launch his pre-school provision. Legislative leaders negotiated a bill that adds money to per-pupil funding, but does not include enough for Dayton’s pre-school plan.

“I’m fighting for the kids of Minnesota,” Dayton said Sunday, when he promised to veto any education bill that did not fund his pre-kindergarten plan. “I’m fighting for the parents of Minnesota.”

With less than a half day left in the session, senators voted 51-14 to approve the legislative leaders’ education plan. A mixture of Democrats and Republicans voted against the bill.

The House earlier approved the bill 71-59, with all Republicans in favor and Democrats against.

Dayton blamed House Republicans for the lack of pre-kindergarten funding.

“They are responsible, not me,” Dayton said about a likely special session. “Their attitude is they will pass this bill and walk away.”

A provision that would help greater Minnesota, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer said, would allow schools to get state money to help make repairs.

Stumpf told of one school district that had to make roof repairs over a numbers of years because it could not afford to make all the needed repairs at once, adding that the provision would have helped.

 

At the Legislature: Easy ending for health funding bill

Minnesota Reps. Tony Albright of Prior Lake, left, and Paul Torkelson of Hanska chat on the floor of the state House Monday, May 18, 2015, as lawmakers wound down their session for the year. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Reps. Tony Albright of Prior Lake, left, and Paul Torkelson of Hanska chat on the floor of the state House Monday, May 18, 2015, as lawmakers wound down their session for the year. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Health funding legislation that caused some of the most controversy in recent months ended up passing relatively easily.

House and Senate members late Sunday and early Monday passed a $12 billion measure funding health programs. It retained the existing MNsure health insurance exchange structure, which both parties wanted to change. It also maintained the MinnesotaCare state-subsidized insurance program for the poor, which Republicans wanted to eliminate.

It passed the Senate 49-16 and the House 99-31.

Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick, said the bill increases support and resources for health care providers, strengthens the state’s mental health system, increases access to health care for persons with disabilities and seniors, ensures safe and stable housing and provides support for caregivers of the vulnerable.

“This is a good bill, but like any budget year we wish we could have done more, like increase the cash grant for low-income families with children,” said Lourey, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division. “The fact that the House Republicans demanded an increase in premiums and cost-shifting for low-income families continues to be a huge disappointment. But the bill has a large number of significant investments in our elderly and disabled, and children in need of protection.”

Republicans also were happy with the bill, despite the fact that it does not eliminate  MinnesotaCare, an action the GOP said would save $1 billion.

“Legislative leaders have crafted a health care reform bill that prioritizes care for Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, Lourey’s House counterpart. “Our omnibus bill seeks to reconnect all Minnesotans with world-leading health care by cutting through red tape, skyrocketing costs and layers of redundant, harmful bureaucracy that government has imposed.”

Increasing state payments to greater Minnesota nursing homes payments to the level paid in the Twin Cities was hailed as a major win by rural lawmakers. It will result in higher nursing home wages.

“This legislation provides a major investment in nursing homes, establishes a sustainable reimbursement system and encourages our workforce to consider a career in long-term care,” said Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, chairman of the Minnesota House Aging and Long Term Care Policy Committee. “There’s no doubt these changes will help improve the quality of care our seniors deserve.”

Buffers-ag-environment

Minnesota landowners would need to plant vegetation buffers around water under a bill lawmakers were working to pass Monday night.

The House passed the bill 83-50 late Monday afternoon, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

The buffer requirement, an issue Gov. Mark Dayton began promoting earlier this year, would be an average 50-foot buffer around public waters. Public drainage systems would need a 16.5-foot buffer.

The issue has become hotly debated, with Dayton demanding action to prevent agricultural and other pollutants from reaching the state’s water.

It was not clear if Dayton could accept the new buffer strip language.

The Nature Conservancy praised the buffer deal.

“It will considerably reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment that enter Minnesota’s waters from agricultural runoff,” conservancy Director Rich Biske said. “As such, it is one of the single biggest actions that can be taken to improve habitat for fish and other aquatic life and to avoid the increased cost of water treatment in both metro and rural areas.”

Executive Director Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said the overall bill would make a modest improvement in water, but “it will not return the rivers, lakes and streams in Minnesota farm country to being swimmable and fishable.”

Morse also criticized the bill’s provision to eliminate the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board, giving most of its duties to PCA officials.

The measure exempts sewage plants near the Red River from some treatment rules until 2025 unless North Dakota increases its water pollution protections.

Sulfide mining waste would be exempt from solid waste rules, apparently helping proposed northeastern Minnesota nickel and copper mines.

When discussing the overall ag-environment bill, representatives engaged in a long debate about whether undocumented immigrants should receive driver’s licenses. The bill’s House and Senate negotiators voted during the weekend to not include the provision.

The driver’s license issue has been discussed the entire legislative session, and in recent days efforts centered on getting it in the agriculture bill because many undocumented immigrants work in ag-related jobs.

Transportation

The governor is being asked to sign a transportation funding bill a tiny fraction of the size that nearly all legislators and he wanted.

“The transportation plan we have agreed upon is the status quo,” House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said.

The bill would spend $5.5 billion in the next two years, which is little different than current spending. Much of that money comes from sources other than state tax collections.

No deal could be reached on competing Democratic and Republican plans that would have added billions of dollars to transportation projects over the next decade. However, Republicans would not accept Democratic wishes to add a new gasoline tax and Democrats rejected the GOP plan to take money from other state programs.

The bigger transportation bill can be considered when legislators return to St. Paul on March 8.

The bill includes $3 million to improve railroad crossings and $900,000 to establish emergency response units in Duluth and St. Cloud to respond to railroad emergencies.

Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, and others complained that there is too little rail safety money in light of the number of oil trains going through the state.

“Why in the world would we not want to do everything possible to make our communities as safe as they can be?” Marquart asked.

Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, said he and others are disappointed the bigger transportation bill was not possible, but he would support the measure.

“I do look forward to an ongoing conversation that will happen this interim,” Reinert said.

Election reform

Lawmakers approved a measure to update election laws, including giving Minnesota National Guard members and other voters living overseas special voting procedures.

The overseas provision is meant to solve a perpetual problem of getting votes into Minnesota elections officials on time.

The bill also overturns a law that requires county attorneys to proceed with prosecutions of alleged voter fraud even before they investigate.

State government

State Auditor Rebecca Otto waged a Twitter battle against legislation that would allow private auditors to look over local government financials.

Otto sent more than three dozen tweets in the hours leading up Senate vote on the measure, which went against her 44-21. The House was expected to debate the bill late Monday.

One tweet said that legislative “leadership made a deal with the devil and Minnesotans love on this one.”

Otto responded to senators as they spoke for or against the bill.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said private auditors must treat data the same as the state auditor. But Sen. Sandra Pappas, D-St. Paul, said that if local governments are allowed to hire private auditors, it would be like “the fox guarding the chicken coop.”

The bill allows local governments to decide whether to use the elected state auditor or a private one.

The auditor provision was part of a bill financing a variety of state and veterans’ programs spending $973 million that includes a 1.8 percent pay raise for many executive branch workers.

Appropriations include $14.98 million for the Senate, which is moving into a new building late this year or early next. The House receives $2.77 million in the bill.

The bill kills the state political contribution fund for two years. That includes a $50 refund Minnesotans can receive for some political contributions.

Courts-public safety

Judges and their staffs would receive a 4 percent pay raise under a bill the House and Senate easily passed.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Gildea has said that workers’ wages in her branch of government were frozen for years and raises are needed to be competitive.

The measure also increases public defender spending to add 36 lawyers.

The overall bill spends $2.1 billion.

It includes $11.4 million to replace outdated Bureau of Criminal Apprehension equipment.

The bill allows gun silencers, also known as suppressors, to be used. Gov. Mark Dayton says he does not like the provision, but has not said he will veto the bill over it.

A proposal to allow some North Dakota gun permit holders to carry in the state without a Minnesota license was not included.

Also not in the measure is a much-discussed provision that would have restored voting rights to felons who had served their time in prison.

 

Education bill heads to promised veto

An education funding bill Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton promises to veto is headed to his desk.

With less than a half day left until the state Constitution orders lawmakers to finish their work, senators voted 51-14 to approve the bill Dayton says he cannot sign because it does not fund half-day classes for 4 year olds. A mixture of Democrats and Republicans voted against the bill.

The House earlier approved the bill 71-59, with all Republicans in favor and Democrats against.

If Dayton follows through with his promise to veto the bill, and it occurs before midnight, the question will be whether he and legislative leaders who crafted the measure can work out a last-minute compromise. If that does not happen, the governor could call a special legislative session to pass an education bill.

On Sunday, Dayton said in his strongest language yet that he would veto the education bill because it does not fund his top priority: pre-kindergarten education. It falls $171 million short.

Dayton blamed House Republicans on the lack of pre-kindergarten funding.

“They are responsible, not me,” Dayton said as he blamed the GOP for a special session. “Their attitude is they will pass this bill and walk away.”

Dayton’s fellow Democrats in the Senate said lots of nice things about the bill Dayton promises to veto.

One provision that will help greater Minnesota, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer said, “is going to mean an awful lot.” It would allow schools to get state money to help make repairs.

Stumpf told of one school district that had to make roof repairs over a numbers of years because it could not afford to make all the needed repairs, adding that the provision would have helped.

Otherwise, the Legislature was well on its way to passing a $41 billion, two-year budget. Much of the spending was negotiated by Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

However, after the three failed to reach a deal on education funding, Daudt and Bakk met privately for two hours Friday afternoon and came up with their own plan.

While Dayton Sunday expressed displeasure with provisions in the other seven spending bills, he only issued a veto threat on education.

The House education vote just before 5:30 a.m.

The bill would spend $17 billion in the two years beginning July 1.

“Legislative leaders crafted a student-focused, bipartisan education bill that works to provide Minnesota students with a world-class education,” House Education Finance Chairwoman Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said. “From increasing E (early childhood)-12 funding by a substantial $400 million to prioritizing our youngest learners with millions more for pre-k scholarships and school readiness aid, this legislation increases academic opportunities for all students and will help close the achievement gap.”

Democrats saw the bill differently.

“Just like this entire session, the Republican education bill is a huge waste of an opportunity for Minnesota’s future,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “With a $2 billion surplus, we should seize this opportunity to invest in our youngest learners and make serious progress to reduce our state’s achievement gap.”

Much of the new money goes to increasing per-pupil aid to all public schools. It also would spend $60 million for early-childhood education and adds money to help greater Minnesota schools improve and repair facilities.

House and Senate members overnight also passed a $12 billion measure funding health programs. It retained the existing MNsure health insurance exchange structure, which both parties wanted to change. It also maintained the MinnesotaCare state-subsidized insurance program for the poor, which Republicans wanted to eliminate.

 

One vote down, one left, one potential veto remaining for education bill

The Minnesota House passed an education funding bill along party lines early today, with the Senate planning to take it up before noon, potentially setting up a faceoff between legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton.

The question in the halls of the Capitol is whether legislative leaders and Dayton can fashion a compromise education bill before tonight’s constitutionally mandated adjournment date. If that fails and Dayton follows through with his veto threat, negotiations would have to restart and the Democratic governor at some point most likely would call a special legislative session to settle the education issue.

On Sunday, Dayton said in his strongest language yet that he would veto the education bill because it does not fund his top priority: pre-kindergarten education. It falls $171 million short.

Otherwise, the Legislature was well on its way to passing a $41 billion, two-year budget. Much of the spending was negotiated by Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

However, after the three failed to reach a deal on education funding, Daudt and Bakk met privately for two hours Friday afternoon and came up with their own plan.

While Dayton on Sunday expressed displeasure with provisions in the other seven spending bills, he only issued a veto threat on education.

The House education vote just before 5:30 a.m. was along party lines, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

The bill would spend $17 billion in the two years beginning July 1.

“Legislative leaders crafted a student-focused, bipartisan education bill that works to provide Minnesota students with a world-class education,” House Education Finance Chairwoman Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said. “From increasing E (early childhood)-12 funding by a substantial $400 million to prioritizing our youngest learners with millions more for pre-k scholarships and school readiness aid, this legislation increases academic opportunities for all students and will help close the achievement gap.”

Democrats saw the bill differently.

“Just like this entire session, the Republican education bill is a huge waste of an opportunity for Minnesota’s future,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “With a $2 billion surplus, we should seize this opportunity to invest in our youngest learners and make serious progress to reduce our state’s achievement gap.”

Much of the new money goes to increasing per-pupil aid to all public schools. It also would spend $60 million for early-childhood education and adds money to help greater Minnesota schools improve and repair facilities.

House and Senate members overnight also passed a $12 billion measure funding health programs. It retained the existing MNsure health insurance exchange structure, which both parties wanted to change. It also maintained the MinnesotaCare state-subsidized insurance program for the poor, which Republicans wanted to eliminate.

 

At the Legislature: Buffer agreement reached, but…

Minnesota Rep. Bud Nornes of Fergus Falls explains his higher education funding bill Sunday, May 17, 2015, in the state House. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Rep. Bud Nornes of Fergus Falls explains his higher education funding bill Sunday, May 17, 2015, in the state House. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota lawmakers and agriculture interests reached a compromise on buffer strips around water that delays requiring the 50-foot buffers the governor sought, but problems remained Sunday night and negotiations continued.

“I am absolutely working on buffers hard,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said Sunday night. “I think we are getting close.”

However, he said that he “does not know how the governor is going to react to the latest offer.”

Torkelson, who has worked with Gov. Mark Dayton on the issue, said he expected an agreement among legislators late Sunday.

Buffer provisions were folded into an agriculture and natural resources funding bill.

“It definitely needs to be improved,” Dayton told reporters.

Part of the reworked legislation was to require the state to do a better job of enforcing existing law that protects water from pollutants. Dayton said he does not think landowners need to be given five to seven more years to obey the law.

The bill requires 50 foot buffers around most water in five years and seven years for other areas of water.

“Water quality is going down…” Dayton said, adding that “it is sad they want to give them five to seven more years. … What a joke.”

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the new language was “a step” in the right direction.

Dayton this spring made buffer strips a key part of his legislative agenda.

Higher education

Many students attending state-run colleges and universities should prepare to pay higher tuitions next year.

The package freezes tuitions at two-year schools in the next school year and reduces them a percent the next year. The bill also provides a tuition freeze in 2017 for four-year Minnesota State College and University system schools.

“We put students first,” said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. “There hasn’t been a tuition reduction in recent history so I am pleased we can finally provide one.”

A final agreement the Senate and House passed Sunday on higher education spending does not include as much money for tuition freezes as sought by the University of Minnesota and MnSCU systems, leading to the limited freeze in the bill.

The University of Minnesota will get $22 million and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities receive $100 million to hold down tuition.

The bill boosts $2.9 billion spending in the current two-year budget to $3 billion in the two years beginning July 1.

Sen. Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, was critical that the House forced the final bill to favor MnSCU over the U of M. He called it “short sighted.”

Ag issues

A bill providing $19 million to help battle avian flu is expected to pass the Legislature.

An agriculture bill contains the funds, with much going to a low-interest loan program for farmers whose flocks were infected with the flu, which has taken nearly the lives of almost 6 million turkeys and chickens in the state.

Farmers, mostly in western Minnesota, have seen their flocks wiped out by the flu. Federal funds reimburse farmers for euthanizing birds to prevent the flu’s spread, but not for birds that die of the flu. The loans are designed to allow farmers repopulate their flocks.

The avian flu decision was made by the House-Senate agriculture-environment conference committee, which also removed language that would have required manufacturers or distributors of children’s products that contain potentially harmful chemicals to notify the Pollution Control Agency, which would then make that information available to the public.

And an amendment, offered by Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, that would have included language allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license or learner’s permit was defeated on a voice vote.

Bonding

A $100 million public works funding bill that passed a House committee Saturday night was scrapped Sunday.

Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, received a message from House leaders to “start from scratch” and see if he could build a new bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, before lawmakers must go home for the year at midnight Monday.

The Torkelson bill the Ways and Means Committee approved included money for disaster relief, a northeastern Minnesota jail to repair meat processing facilities and to upgrade a Willmar turkey testing facility.

The bill was drawn up without Democratic input and Assistant House Minority Leader Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said he does not see support in his party for the bill. A bonding bill needs more votes than either party can provide, so Democratic input could help pass the bill.

Gov. Mark Dayton and the Senate bonding bill chief, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, met about bonding Sunday night.

Dayton said he holds out hope that a bill could pass that includes money for railroad crossings in Moorhead, Willmar, Prairie Island Indian Community and Coon Rapids. The crossings now are at the same level as roads, but Dayton wants to convert them to overpasses.

“We are going to continue working on the bonding issue,” Torkelson said. “Whether it is going to come to the floor, I have not decided or been told.”

Transportation

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, started the legislative session saying that a major transportation-funding bill might not happen until 2016.

Then things quickly gelled and House Republicans produced a 10-year multi-billion-dollar road and bridge construction proposal funded by money taken from other state programs.

But in the past week, that plan and one by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Democrats that would have added a new gasoline tax pretty much disappeared in late-session budget talks.

The Legislature late Sunday was poised to pass a transportation funding bill, tiny in comparison to the ones nearly everyone wanted. Still, Kelly said, the bill would provide $5 million for rail safety issues, money that could be used to study the situation so solutions can be included in a major transportation bill next year.

Railroads were ready to help fund safety projects, Kelly said, but he did not provide specifics before being whisked away to a meeting.

Kelly said the decision came down to “a tax increase or tax cuts.”

Republicans wanted to cut taxes $2 billion, while Democrats wanted the new gasoline tax. Both were controversial and were dropped when neither side could agree to the other’s plan.

The transportation package will be in front of House-Senate negotiators when legislators return to work on March 8 for their 2016 session.

Felon voting

The Legislature overwhelmingly approved a plan to fund courts, prisons and public safety programs on Sunday.

Despite the 55-9 Senate vote and the 116-15 House vote, the measure did create some intra-party difficulties.

The push to restore felons’ voting rights was left out of the compromise public safety bill negotiated by DFL Sen. Ron Latz and Republican Rep. Tony Cornish, due to stiff Republican opposition.

Minnesota felons lose their right to vote until they’ve completed their sentences. Felons released on parole or probation are still unable to vote.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis and a fierce supporter of felon voting, was upset by the abandonment of the provision, especially because the final measure included gun rights provisions strongly opposed by liberal activists.

“I do not want us to dirty up the word compromise,” Champion said in the wee hours Sunday before a joint House-Senate committee approved the measure.

Latz said he struck the best deal he could and pointed to extra money for public safety programs such as youth intervention and public defenders that he secured in the bill.

License plate data

Data from automatic license plate readers would have to be destroyed after 60 days, unless part of an ongoing investigation, under a compromise the Legislature approved.

That splits the difference between the House version, which destroyed that data after 30 days, and the Senate version, which had a 90-day lifespan.

Privacy activists say databases of automatic license plate reader information invade the privacy of law-abiding citizens and have argued for the data to be deleted immediately if not related to an existing investigation. Law enforcement officials say license plate readers are an invaluable tool that can identify the locations of suspects — and that the need for a particular hit often doesn’t become clear for months.

The compromise legislation makes the existence of automated license plate readers’ public information, audits every two years of license plate reader programs and limits on the use of the readers to track specific individuals without a warrant.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press and Session Daily contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner. Session Daily is a nonpartisan Minnesota House news service.