Legislative Session Ends with No Bonding Bill
Minnesota’s 2020 legislative session adjourned Monday with state lawmakers locked in a standoff over a state bonding bill.
The Republican minority in the House made good on its promise to block a $2 billion bonding bill until Governor Walz gives up the emergency powers he enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“My disappointment that the bonding bill apparently became victim to an unrelated demand simply isn’t the way to get this done,” Governor Walz said in a Monday morning conference call with reporters.
But Republicans believe the governor’s extension of his emergency powers is a red flag.
“To me, it was the most fundamental issue,” said Rep. Kirsten Robbins, R-Maple Grove.
Robbins says she supported the original emergency declaration and the stay-at-home order.
“The emergency has passed. We need to return to a balance of power between legislative and executive (branches),” said Robbins. “I think the public is getting more uncomfortable with one person unilaterally choosing which businesses will be open or whether or not schools can have a graduation.”
Walz has argued throughout the pandemic that his actions were necessary because decisions had to be made quickly.
“My top priority is the protection of Minnesotans, and these powers that were granted by the legislative process have allowed us to do just exactly that,” Walz said.
The governor’s peacetime emergency powers will extend until June 12. The legislature is expected to go back into a special session at that time.
Bonding Bill Would Pay for Wide Range of Projects
The $2 billion bonding bill in the House would have paid for infrastructure projects across the state, but it needed a three-fifths majority to pass. House GOP members argued that the price tag of the bonding bill was too big, and that the governor was acting unilaterally in his response to the pandemic by ordering the closure of schools and businesses without involving the legislature.
However, DFL leadership say they could have handled the bonding bill during the regular session.
“The House Republicans got in the way of the local projects bill,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “There’s so many jobs that will be created when we do pass the bonding bill. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to find a way to get the House GOP on board to get that bill through in June.”
The Senate, meanwhile, considered its own $998 million bonding bill, but that measure failed to pass as well.
“A bonding bill is a complex, big list of important local projects, and we didn’t see the Senate Republicans’ bill until the day before adjournment,” said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury. “And when we saw it, it was much smaller than the numbers that had been discussed, which if that had happened a few days earlier, maybe that would have worked out okay. But slapping together a big bonding bill at the last minute, and one that would not cover the entire state adequately and fairly and does not do what we need it to do in terms of delivering jobs and important projects for Minnesotans, it did not measure up to what we needed to do at this time.”
Tasks still accomplished this session
Other than the bonding bill, the legislature did come together on a few things in this session dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Lawmakers allocated $200 million to the state’s COVID-19 fund.
- The age to purchase tobacco products in Minnesota was raised to 21.
- Minnesota became the first state in the nation to ban TCE, a hazardous material known mainly for cleaning metal parts that’s been linked to cancer.
- The legislature expanded the authority under the 2018 Safe Seniors Financial Protection Act to help protect seniors from financial fraud.
- Lawmakers passed the Alex Smith Insulin Affordability Act
The work, however, will continue said the governor.
“It’s a shame, but I will not give up,” Walz said. “We go around road blocks. We figure out ways to get there. We’ve been on the phone, bipartisanly, continuing to try and work this out, and we will continue to do that.”