Senate leaders talk rideshare, sports betting and bonding bill as session winds down

Published 6:19 am Friday, April 12, 2024

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By Cathy Wurzer and Gracie Stockton, Minnesota Public Radio News

There are about five weeks left in this legislative session and lawmakers are still working on a bonding bill — a package of public infrastructure projects.

To get an idea of how the final weeks of the session might go, DFL Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy and GOP Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer back-to-back on Morning Edition.

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They both discussed key issues at the Capitol, like ridesharing, health care, sports betting and, of course, the bonding bill.

The rideshare dilemma

The Minneapolis City Council decided Thursday to postpone the start of a minimum wage ordinance until July 1 — two months later than the original commencement. Gov. Walz quashed a bill that would’ve set minimum wages. After Minneapolis’ move, many lawmakers are again exploring state-level solutions to stop Uber and Lyft from leaving the market entirely.

Murphy: “We know a lot more, because of the study coming out of the Department of Labor and Industry than we did a year ago. We want to make sure that Minnesotans have access to rideshare … I think it is smart for us to have a statewide framework for rideshare for the drivers and to make sure they’re being paid fairly.”

She believes a bill could pass this session.

“I think that Minneapolis is taking a pause on the implementation to give us time to work with the drivers and with interested parties to stakeholders to put something in place that is reliable and fair.”

Johnson: GOP Sen. Zach Duckworth is carrying a preemption bill.

“And the reason why we can’t let the Minneapolis City Council lead on this is they’ve simply gone too far on this particular issue. It’s going to be affecting cities throughout the state if Uber and Lyft start pulling out … All sorts of individuals — not just those who are flying into the state and tourists — but also … some of our disabled community are using those services as their daily means to get around.

“I think it’s very important that the Minnesota Legislature … puts their stamp on what the policy is going to be going forward so we can retain these sorts of services for our communities.”

Sports betting and horse racing tracks

Legalizing sports betting has long been debated at the Legislature, and Minnesota remains one of 12 states where it remains illegal. However, a new kind of horse-race betting is complicating the conversation.

Murphy: “I have been so impressed with Sen. Klein and Sen. Marty and others who have been working diligently over these last two years to bring forth a proposal that would earn the support of legislators in both bodies. But there’s two things, right. [It] creates this market in Minnesota, but also does it in such a way that we’re paying close attention to what we see is the rise of addiction in other states that implement this.”

Johnson: He believes the odds are long a sports betting bill would pass this year and it’s not clear cut down partisan lines.

“But I will say this session, there’s been a lot more give and take than in other years. It seems like whether you’d like sports betting or not, its time is coming here.

“I think some of the big issues on this one … are the exclusivity issue where tribes would have control over a great deal of the gaming. Also the issues with the tracks being cut out of it, some of our charities, the tax rates on charities, and how that’s working, what the state is going to be getting from this.”

Health care and EMS funding

Murphy is sponsoring a bill to establish a commission that would help lawmakers better understand the high cost of health care, and where costs could be cut. It’s moving quickly through committee. She said the legislation is the next chapter of creating affordability for Minnesotans, preceded by housing, child care and higher education bills.

Murphy: “I think what we are left with right now is a system for making money and not a system of care. Our outcomes aren’t great; our providers are raising a lot of alarms for us … By engaging Minnesotans in a conversation across the state … I think we can get our arms around not only the root of the problems but also what it is that Minnesotans want with their public dollars being spent in a system that’s meant to serve them.”

Johnson: The third committee deadline for bills to stay alive is next week, and many pieces of legislation won’t make it through. One GOP priority, according to Johnson is more funding for emergency medical services.

“Our EMS systems across the state — you think of the ambulances, and those providing medical transportation in emergencies — are really on the cusp of falling down here because of running out of funding … but [we’re] hoping to secure those and ensure that we can get those guys stabilized here going forward.”

The bonding bill

It’s a bonding year, and capital investment packages often come together late in the session. While the DFL maintains a trifecta, the caucus needs Republican support to get a bonding bill over the finish line by May 20.

Murphy: “I think Minnesotans will be happy to know that Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have been working together … and there’s a lot of alignment here … We’re putting those dollars into the projects, whether it is roads and bridges or water infrastructure or critical structures of Minnesotans to make sure that those are reliable and useful across the state.”

But, “there are deep needs across the state; people have made lots of requests. We won’t meet all those requests. We never do.”

Johnson: “Big talk this year is what are we going to do for bonding across the state. These are bigger projects … roads and bridges and your drinking water and wastewater — those projects that last a long time out into the future here — those are the projects that we’re really concentrating on.”

Last session, the Senate approved $2.6 billion on bonding, which Johnson is more than double the usual allocation.

“Those dollars are still going out into communities … So our caucus is being very, very careful on what projects are going to go into this new [bonding] bill.”

Public safety

Republican Sen. Warren Limmer is carrying a bill that could make swatting against public officials a felony. There’s also a bill moving forward upping penalties for straw-purchasing weapons.

Johnson: “I think there’s some interest in looking at that swatting bill and I think there’s a pathway forward with Sen. Limmer on that one and also his House counterpart.

For quite some time, Republicans have been “trying to get the increase in penalties for straw purchasers.” The deadly shooting of three first responders in Burnsville with straw-purchased weapons again underlined the concern.

“Democrats … took that exact language and changed the author on it and brought it into their camp. So I think there is some common agreement on those bills.”

Remote work and medical concerns

Democrats’ thin majority has been challenged by health concerns for some of its members this year. Sen. Lindsey Port recently announced she’s switching to mostly remote work due to long COVID symptoms. Sen. Kari Dziedzic has also worked and voted away from the capitol building while battling cancer.

Murphy: “One of the I think advantages that we have gained out of a global pandemic is our ability for people to work remotely from home when they’re ill … And it sure does, I think, make communication just a little harder when we don’t see each other all of the time on the floor… But we’re in good communication and they’re doing exceptional work.”