An anticipated whirlwind of sweeping omnibus bills have worked their way through final approval in the Minnesota House and Senate over the last 24 hours.
A potpourri of government spending and policy packages — including a $23.2 billion education bill, and $834 million commerce bill and a $1.37 billion jobs bill — were agreed upon by conference committees and adopted by mostly-Democrat coalitions in both chambers on Tuesday and Wednesday. Republicans made their case to vote down each of the conference committee reports and send back for further discussion on several controversial provisions. But the DFL majority in the House and Senate held together to pass each bill, which will now head to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz.
Education finance bill
A conference committee made up of eight DFLers and two Republicans came to an agreement on a conference committee report for HF2497, which would increase spending for K-12 education by 10.2 percent, or about $2.26 billion, over the next two years — for a total of $23.2 billion. That report passed both in the Senate and the House this week.
Conferees agreed to adopt a provision for the annual per pupil student funding formula that would index it to inflation starting in 2025. While the House voted along party lines to pass the bill, Rep. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, was the lone Republican in the Senate who voted for final passage of the conference report. She did support a motion by Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, to re-refer the conference report to the conference committee. But that motion failed on 34-33 vote along party lines.
The conference report contains several new policy changes, including one that would prohibit schools from using Native American-related names, mascots or logos, unless all 11 of the state’s tribal nations agree to grant an exemption. Another provision also replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day on official school calendars.
Legislators in the House debated final passage of the conference report into the early morning Wednesday. Republicans said the bill is bloated with dozens of mandates on school districts that weren’t asked for.
“The bill you have in front of you has at least 65 mandates that will be put on our schools,” said Rep. Patricia Mueller, R-Austin. “This is a transformational bill. The problem is it doesn’t transform the way we need it to be.”
Bill author Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-St. Louis Park, told her House colleagues that the word “mandate” should not hold a negative connotation.
“’Mandate’ can also be used as a word [to mean] accountability,” Youakim said. “We are charged with making sure our districts are accountable to our students.”
Commerce omnibus bill
House Democrats voted 69-59 along party lines Wednesday to adopt a conference report for SF2784 that will dedicate nearly $835 million over the next two years for the Department of Commerce. The Senate voted 35-32 in the early morning hours. Sen. Jim Abeler, of Anoka, was the lone Republican who supported the conference report.
It will now go to Gov. Walz, who has said he will sign it. The legislation would also institute new policies Democrats say will put into place long-overdue consumer protections.
“I am especially proud of the opportunity to create the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which will finally stand up against runaway profits in the pharmaceutical industry,” Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said following passage of the conference report in both chambers. “No Minnesotan should be denied access to lifesaving primary care or essential medication because of spiraling out-of-pocket costs.”
But Republicans disagreed.
“Instead of protecting consumers, it just gives more power to the governor,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch. “It will invite lawsuits without actually controlling prices or improving supplies.”
All 34 DFLers in the Senate voted late Tuesday night to pass a conference report for SF3035, which will dedicate $1.37 billion to a number of initiatives, the bulk of those dollars going to the Department of Employment and Economic Development. All 33 Republicans opposed the motion. That followed a 70-61 party-line House vote earlier in the day to repass the bill as amended via conference report.
Appropriations to DEED aim to address a workforce shortage in many industries, reduce economic disparities, and provide jobs-related aid to areas of the state based on industry needs.
The legislation also includes $125.3 million in spending for the PROMISE Act, which provides jobs and economic-related aid to “communities that have been adversely affected by structural racial discrimination, civil unrest, lack of access to capital, loss of population or an aging population, or lack of regional economic diversification,” according to bill language.
More than 80 percent of that funding will be targeted toward Twin Cities communities that suffered economic losses associated with the summer 2020 “civil unrest.”
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.