The Legislature’s special session sputtered to a close early this morning without agreement on any of the big-ticket items such as bonding, police reforms or how to distribute the federal CARES Act funds to local governments. It was a frustrating finish, especially considering the lack of accomplishments during the regular session and the myriad needs in Greater Minnesota and across the state. Click here to read a media statement on the CGMC’s reaction to the session.
As CGMC President Audrey Nelsen says in the media statement, “there is plenty of blame to go around” for the failures of the special session. As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, the Legislature appeared to be nearing agreement on some issues, particularly the CARES Act funding. However, at some point during the night negotiations broke down and the Senate chose to adjourn despite the ample amount of work left to do.
From the start of the special session on June 12, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) insisted that the Senate would adjourn by June 19. That deadline, however, was completely arbitrary – they did not need to adjourn. The House DFL argued that they hoped to continue the session for as long as needed to hammer out agreements on the major items. Although the Senate GOP continued a few hours past their self-imposed midnight deadline, they still chose to adjourn the session at about 6 a.m. Since the Senate had put an end to the session, the House followed suit and adjourned shortly thereafter.
CARES Act deal falls through — again
As the evening worn on, legislative leaders told reporters that they were “close” to a deal on a plan to distribute $841 million federal CARES Act funding to local governments, but it never panned out. Earlier in the week, the GOP-led Senate passed a bill that would have distributed the money fairly and quickly to cities, counties and townships across the state. However, the DFL-led House passed a version that added several other spending measures to the bill.
The House’s move seemed to go against a prior agreement that had been reached among the four legislative leaders and effectively killed the bill because the GOP refused to support the amendments. Despite last-ditch efforts, the bill could not be revived before the special session adjourned.
Unless the Legislature takes up this issue in a future special session, Gov. Walz will be the key decision maker on how the CARES Act funds will be distributed. As governor, he has the authority to distribute money to local governments through the Legislative Advisory Commission. The Governor’s plan to distribute the money remains unclear, but it would likely result in less money for local governments than the $841 million agreed upon by the Legislature.
Bonding bill fails to materialize
The passage of at least a $1.5 million bonding bill that addresses key Greater Minnesota needs (such as water infrastructure, child care facilities, roads and bridges, and the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure grant program) has long been a top goal of the CGMC. After the Legislature failed to pass a bonding bill during the regular session, we had hopes that it would come into fruition during the special session.
Alas, it did not. In fact, very little was done publicly on the bonding bill at all. The Senate held one hearing on its bonding bill, a $1.1 billion version that was similar to the bill that failed during the regular session. The House held no hearings on bonding.
At various times during the special session, legislative leaders mentioned that an agreement had been reached on the size of the bonding bill – $1.35 billion – and that the Capital Investment Committee chairs and other key legislators were negotiating the details. However, by the time Friday rolled around it was apparent that the bonding bill was not going to pass during the special session.
Police reforms are a sticking point
In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the DFL made criminal justice reform one of their top priorities for the special session. The Senate passed a few reform measures, but the DFL argued the GOP’s plan did not do enough to address ongoing concerns about police and criminal justice practices. As Friday night wore on, both sides brought forth compromised solutions, but they were unable to reach a final agreement.
The Governor is the only one who has the authority to call a special session and he can do so at any time. At this point, it appears likely that at least one more special session will be called this summer. If Gov. Walz opts to extend his emergency executive powers — which he has renewed every 30 days since March — he will have to call the Legislature back for a special session on July 12. However, he can choose to call a special session sooner. Or, he may decide to end his emergency powers, in which case a special session could be held later than July 12 or not at all.
Despite the disappointing end to the special session, we remain hopeful that legislative leaders, Gov. Walz and key committee chairs will continue negotiations in the interim. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for CARES Act funding for local governments, a robust bonding bill and other priorities for Greater Minnesota cities.