‘Successful’ legislators still left key issues unresolved

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When this year’s legislative session ended, the governor and leaders of both political parties touted the new laws passed and their successes producing results for the people of Minnesota.

Unlike 2018 and several years before, there were no deadlocks that lead to public frustration, lack of action on key issues, contentious special sessions or a government shutdown. Even with divided government – a DFL governor, a Republican-controlled Senate and a DFL-controlled house –compromises produced results.

Still, the session ended with last-minute deals reached in private.

But behind the positive spin, several major issues were not resolved because the House and Senate couldn’t reach an accord.

First, let’s look at the highlights of what was accomplished.

An education bill increases per-pupil funding in public schools by 2 percent each year of the next two years.

The tax bill cuts the income tax rate in the second bracket, extends the medical provider tax at 1.8 percent and aligns state tax law with the federal tax code to make filing easier.

The Legislature finally authorized spending $6.6 million in federal funds to increase election security.

A massive health and human services spending measure funds nursing homes, child care and other health programs.

The transportation bill funds a study on extending Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud.

Some 30,000 families will benefit from increased cash assistance from the Minnesota Family Investment Program or the Diversionary Work Program.

Elder abuse legislation created long-overdue protections for Minnesota’s aging population in assisted-living centers. Minnesota had been the only state in the nation that did not regulate the centers that more than 55,000 seniors call home.

“Minnesota is showing the rest of the nation that Republicans and Democrats can still find a compromise and work together to get things done,” said Gov. Tim Walz, a former congressman who pledged to cut through the gridlock when he took over the governor’s office in January.

These successes aside, legislators failed to pass legislation on several key issues.

The House passed a gun safety bill that would expand background checks and introduce “red flag” powers to temporarily remove firearms from people who present a danger to themselves or others. Both these measures are supported by as many as 90 percent of Americans. But the Republican-controlled Senate blocked any action. Republicans hold a 35-32 majority in the Senate. Any action on gun safety may require flipping a few of those Republican seats in the 2020 election.

When Walz proposed a 20-cents-a-gallon tax increase, nobody in Minnesota, probably including even Walz, expected it to pass. But Minnesota does need increased funding for transportation. Current money barely covers repairs, maintenance and modest new projects. Totally bargaining away the 20-cent increase doesn’t make the need go away. A 10, 5 or even 1-cent increase would have been better than zero.

A proposal to guarantee 12-week paid family and medical leave also failed. Only about one in six Americans has access to paid leave. A DFL-backed bill would pay for the benefit with a 0.6 percent tax on income, with workers and employers sharing the bill.

The speaker of the Minnesota House wants lawmakers to return to St. Paul for a one-day special session in September to take up several bills that failed to pass. Lawmakers are not set to meet again until Feb. 11, 2020, but Speaker Melissa Hortman says there’s no reason lawmakers can’t come back before then to take up unfinished business.

Hortman wants lawmakers to take up a $500 million bonding bill and a proposal to create an emergency insulin program that was discussed as a part of the budget deal this year but failed in negotiations.

Let’s congratulate Minnesota’s leaders on basic government competence. But when they meet again, in special or regular session, we expect them to go beyond mere competence and solve issues of gun safety, transportation, public health and support for working families.

Author: Mike Knaak

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