The final days of the legislative session have a very different feel this year. Under normal circumstances the halls of the Capitol and legislative buildings would be filled legislators, staff, lobbyists, and the public. The atmosphere would be electric with bursts of activity, conference committees called at a moment’s notice, and of course, everyone asking “What are you hearing?” to whomever they meet.
This year is obviously very different, but the Legislature is still working to pass a host of bills touching on topics large and small. One thing that is certain, though, is that even after the Legislature adjourns May 18, the legislating for the year will not be done. Far from it.
It remains to be seen if the Legislature can wrap up a bonding bill or agree on a plan for distributing the first round of federal CARES Act money to cities and counties (see articles below) in the next week. If these items don’t get done, they will need to be taken up in a special session. Also in need of attention will be the state’s overall budget situation after the announcement last week of a projected $2.4 billion deficit. Based on the comments of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) Commissioner Myron Frans and what we are seeing at the Legislature, it seems unlikely that there will be any major budget moves during the remainder of the regular session.
So what does the summer look like? Assuming (which we do) that Governor Walz will extend his emergency powers on May 13, it is likely that there will be a special session in mid-June. Since the Legislature would be out of session at that time, if the Governor seeks to extend his emergency powers again, the Legislature would be automatically brought back into a special session. This would likely be a target date for the Legislature and Walz administration to negotiate any unfinished regular session issues as well as any emerging COVID-19 response that needs to be addressed.
As for the overall state budget, there are really three options. The Legislature and Governor could try to deal with it in a special session toward the end of the summer or in the fall. This would allow for another, more refined revenue and budget projection from MMB for state leaders to work from. Option two would be for everyone to wait until the 2021 session to take up the budget, but at that point the options for what to adjust become very limited. The last and worst option would be if the Governor chooses to exercise his unallotment powers to make adjustments to the budget.
As we look ahead to the summer, we expect it to have the feel of one long special session. Negotiations and activity will happen largely out of public view. Agreements that can’t be changed once they become public will emerge quickly and be dealt with in sporadic, rapid-fire floor sessions. Due to the uncertainty of future needs related to the COVID-19 response, we should also be prepared for several cycles of special sessions through the rest of the year.
As always, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about where the Legislature is headed and how CGMC is responding.