The 2016 Legislative Session began on Tuesday, March 8th – one of the latest starting dates for a session in recent memory. It was a short session, just over 10-weeks for the House and Senate to complete the legislative business by the constitutional date to adjourn sine die of May 23, 2016. By Sunday night, the legislature passed two of the four major bills prior to adjourning – taxes and supplemental budget. As has been reported, the end of the session was not pretty. There was an attempt to pass a bonding and transportation bill in the final hours, but that went down in flames when the bill was amended in the Senate and the House adjourned sine die before the bill returned for final passage. The ball is in the Governor’s court to either sign or veto the bills which passed; and, to decide whether or not to call a special session and continue working on the unresolved issues.
Taxes: The first major conference committee bill approved by the Legislature was the omnibus tax bill. The bill was a two-year process because the legislature failed to pass a tax bill in the 2015 session. This year, the legislature approved a bill which provides $257 million in tax relief over the 2016-17 biennium and $543 million in the subsequent biennium. The bill includes a first-in-the-nation student loan tax credit; expansion of the child care tax credit; tax deductions and credits for families contributing to 529 savings plans; expansion of the working family tax credit; expansion of tax credits for some veterans; school building agricultural credit; increased local government aid (LGA) payments to cities and counties; and a phase-out of the state general levy that applies to commercial and seasonal properties. The bill also includes a property tax exemption for the proposed major league soccer stadium, several local tax provisions, and tax abatements for economically distressed business in the Mille Lacs area. The bill also repeals the annual inflation adjustment on the cigarette excise tax and freezes the current rate which raised objections during the Floor debate. The bill does not include a plan to establish a paid family leave program modeled after the state’s unemployment insurance program.
Budget: The supplemental budget conference committee met throughout the weekend and reached agreement on a $187 million bill early Sunday morning. The bill includes funding for a wide range of programs across all policy areas. Included in the bill is $25 million for prekindergarten, $35 million for broadband expansion, and $35 million for equity programs. Other funding was provided for state parks and trails, Mille Lacs area economic relief, human services programs, Mighty Ducks ice arena grants, judges pension plans, increased per diem for jurors, higher education grants, and other program areas. The bill also included four tax provisions with fiscal costs in the next biennium: a one-year extension of the angel investment tax credit; exemption of military pensions from state tax; tax credits for families who have a stillborn baby; and elimination of sales tax for modular homes. Governor Dayton has expressed concern regarding several provisions not included in the bill, but has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the bill as it was passed.
Bonding and Transportation: At the eleventh hour, literally – 11:00 p.m. on Sunday night, the House and Senate seemed to have reached agreement on a bonding and transportation bill. The proposal would have authorized funding through general obligation bonds, general fund appropriations and state transportation dollars for roughly $1.1 billion of public works spending on projects like rail crossing safety upgrades, water infrastructure improvements, higher education needs, parks and trails development, Capitol security upgrades, road and bridge projects, and , many local area projects. The spreadsheet was distributed to legislators with roughly an hour remaining in the legislative session, but confusion erupted when many legislators had trouble accessing the documents online and printed copies were only available to a few. The bill was debated in the House and passed, but when the Senate took up the bill there was confusion regarding what many thought was agreed upon language regarding funding of the Southwest light rail transit line. Language was missing from the bill to give additional authority to local counties to provide the necessary funding. The bill was amended in the Senate and passed. However, the bill needed to return to the House for final passage as amended. Before the bill made it across the street for consideration, the House adjourned sine die and the legislative session ended – without final passage of a bonding and transportation bill.
ere is a link to an article by Don Davis, reporter for Forum Communications Company with a very good look at the chaotic last minutes of the 2016 legislative session: http://capitolchat.areavoices.com/2016/05/23/tick-tock-tick-tock-last-minutes-of-2016-legislature/
Other Issues: Several high profile bills succeeded this session including changing to a presidential primary rather than caucuses beginning in 2020; authorization of the use of police body cameras, drug sentencing reform, extended unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range workers, and many other issues. A few prominent issues were not resolved including implementation of the REAL ID act. The federal government will require REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses to board airplane beginning in 2018, so the legislature could wait until the 2017 session to resolve this issue.
Legislative Retirements: All 201 legislative seats in the Minnesota House and Senate are up for election this November. The filing period for office opened on May 17 and runs through May 31. At the end of the session, the following members have announced they are not running for re-election to the office they currently hold:
- Senator Teri Bonoff (DFL, Minnetonka) Running for Congress
- Sen. Dave Brown (R, Becker)
- Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL, Columbia Heights)
- Senator Alice Johnson (DFL, Blaine)
- Sen. Jim Metzen (DFL, South St. Paul)
- Sen. Julianne Ortman (R, Chanhassen)
- Sen. John Pederson (R, St. Cloud)
- Sen. Roger Reinert (DFL, Duluth)
- Sen. Bev Scalze (DFL, Little Canada)
- Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL, Mankato)
- Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL, Newport)
- Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL, Thief River Falls)
- Sen. Dave Thomson (R, Lakeville)
- Rep. Mark Anderson (R, Lake Shore)
- Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL, Inver Grove Heights) Running for Dakota County Commissioner)
- Rep. Dave Hancock (R, Bemidji)
- Rep. Tim Kelly (R, Red Wing)
- Rep. Tara Mack (R, Apple Valley)
- Rep. Carly Melin (DFL, Hibbing)
- Rep. Kim Norton (DFL, Rochester)
- Rep. Tim Sanders (R, Blaine)
- Rep. Yvonne Selcer (DFL, Eden Prairie)
The following House members are leaving their House seat and running for the Minnesota Senate:
- Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL, Columbia Heights)
- Rep. Jason Isaacson (DFL, Shoreview)
- Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL, Coon Rapids)
- Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL, St. Paul Park)
- Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL, Duluth)
What’s Next? Technically, the 2016 legislative session is over and legislators should return home to their families and constituents. Governor Dayton has not indicated if he will sign, veto or line-item veto the tax and budget bills, but says he will make this decision by the end of the week. He also has not indicated if he will call a special session to try and pass a bonding and transportation bill. But, this decision will not be made unless there is agreement with all legislative parties on the remaining issues.