Minnesota lawmakers return for Day 3 of special session

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, May 25, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Thursday for Day 3 of what was supposed to be a one-day special session, hoping to turn a good night’s sleep into progress on finishing a $46 billion budget.

The House and Senate returned Thursday afternoon and were preparing for sessions that House Speaker Kurt Daudt warned could stretch well into Friday morning.

There were early signs that it could be a difficult day, especially in the Senate, where two Republicans and one Democrat were absent. Given the GOP’s narrow 34-33 majority, at least one Democratic vote, or at least abstention, was going to be needed to pass anything.

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“We are going to make an effort to get done today,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said on the floor. “It will be a bipartisan effort if we do it.”

Senate chaplain Mike Smith told lawmakers he had been asked that they have only one prayer, “that we end today.”

But Sen. Richard Cohen, a St. Paul Democrat, complained that most senators were shut out of the discussions among legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration that led to a broad agreement late Monday on how to use a $1.65 billion surplus. The sides agreed to put $650 million toward tax relief, $50 million to expand preschool offerings and $300 million to fix roads and bridges. Turning that framework into actual bills has been harder than anticipated.

“We intend to have, not a filibuster debate that last days and days, but we intend to be heard,” Cohen warned.

On Thursday’s agenda was a bill that would have the state borrow more than $1 billion for public construction projects, including more than $250 million for transportation infrastructure. The bonding bill was expected to be the final piece of legislation that lawmakers take up during the special session, which was originally supposed to end by 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The bill also includes nearly $120 million for the University of Minnesota and over $92 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Also on the agenda was a bill to fund health and human services programs, which wasn’t released until Wednesday night. It would make more than $450 million in cuts to the state’s spending on health care services.

But the bill also angered conservatives because it tries to limit the pain of those cuts by emptying a dedicated health care account to cover some of those costs.

The bill also includes numerous fee hikes for people and businesses such as chiropractors, hearing aid distributors, manufactured home parks and tattoo artists.

The Legislature sent Dayton five budget bills before the regular session ended at its midnight Monday deadline, but the remaining spending packages make up a combined 85 percent of the state’s overall budget.