House Republicans cry foul as Speaker Hortman cuts off debate over a paid leave tax hike

The DFL "trifecta" is pushing partisan legislation in the waning days of session as Republicans attempt to run out the clock.

In a press conference Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, told media members that “everything is at risk right now." (Minnesota House Info)

Can anything good happen after midnight? That adage was tested in both legislative chambers at the Minnesota Capitol in the early hours of Thursday morning.

As state lawmakers run out of hours in the remaining three days of session to tackle supplemental budget spending, bonding legislation and a few DFL signature policy bills that are drawing Republican ire, chaos broke out on the House floor just after midnight Thursday.

Boisterous calls for House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, to recognize Republicans wishing to speak bellowed through the chamber after the top-ranking Democrat abruptly cut off a lengthy debate over a bill that would increase the payroll taxes on a new state-managed paid leave program that has yet to be implemented.

Over in the Senate, Republicans stretched debate until just before sunrise on a handful of DFL-driven bills, including an omnibus elections policy bill GOP senators have said contains several provisions that are “not ready for prime time.” Democrats ultimately passed that bill on a 34-33 vote, including that of Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, who faces a criminal trial for first-degree burglary. Republicans tried and failed to expel Mitchell from the Senate on Wednesday.

On Thursday late morning House GOP leaders held a press conference to recap their frustrations over how they believe Speaker Hortman mishandled the tail-end of a debate on HF5363, which would increase by up to 25 percent the payroll tax for a paid leave program that will debut in 2026.

‘Everything is at risk right now’ in legislative negotiations

As a debate over the bill that spanned eight hours eclipsed into midnight, House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, made a motion to waive a House rule (1.50) to allow members to continue to debate past midnight.

Hortman entertained the motion on a voice vote, and then ignored Republican calls for “division,” which would have triggered a roll call on the motion. She then effectively cut off any further debate and required a roll call vote on the bill, despite audible protests from Republicans who alleged Hortman had skirted House rules.

“Madame Speaker, you have just silenced the voice of the minority,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said as legislators began entering their votes on the bill. Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, was the lone Democrat who voted “no” on the bill.

“Unbelievable breach of House Rules tonight,” Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, wrote in a social media post just minutes after session adjourned following the vote. “A ($887M) tax increase was passed without calling the previous question, points of Parliamentary procedure & higher order motions like ‘division’ were ignored. If the Majority won’t even follow its own Rules, chaos is inevitable.”

In a press conference Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, told media members that “everything is at risk right now,” in reference to bills Democrats know they need Republican support in order to pass. “Bonding, sports betting, Uber/Lyft, everything where Republican votes are needed.”

Floor session theatrics, procedural strategies, horse trading and long hours are common in budget years, where the legislature has a constitutional duty to pass a budget before adjournment.

But as 2024 is a bonding year, none of the bills that DFL leadership has teed up for floor votes in recent days are constitutionally required to pass. That reality serves as a backdrop to a number of controversial legislative proposals — such as the so-called “Equal Rights Amendment” — along with a handful of conference committees that have yet to hammer out differences in House and Senate language. And the fact that Democrats continue to hold a one-vote majority in the Senate that is dependent on the presence of Sen. Nicole Mitchell has amplified the partisan rancor as session draws to a close.

But those Democrats who want to ensure the ERA bill is passed in the House and Senate over the weekend and then brought to voters during the 2026 election cycle are not backing down.

“We are at the end folks,” said Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, “the Queer Caucus is doing everything we can to fight for every single victory available to us. Let your members know we want the ERA now.”

Walz watches, waits

Whether House Democrats will be able to pass their version of the ERA bill and then convince the Senate to agree to their language is up in the air. But because the legislation would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters, it doesn’t require the signature of Gov. Tim Walz, who has been largely silent on the House version, which several religious groups and pro-life organizations have opposed.

Bills already on their way to the desk of the governor include an omnibus education bill that would “ban book bans” in schools and public libraries and another that would expand the cap for the Department of Labor to increase the minimum wage indexed to inflation, from 2.5 percent to 5 percent. Republicans opposed both of those provisions.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.