Update from the Capitol - February 2020
Clock is ticking on hot topics in Legislature
Feb. 11 marked the beginning of the second year of the 91st Legislature, and policy setting has begun in earnest. While the majority of legislation funding was accomplished with the passage of the $50 billion package in the first year of the Legislature, additional policy and funding measures are expected to quickly unfurl in St. Paul.
Typically, funding for state building projects is the focus of the second year of the Legislature. However, legislators have indicated both the Senate and House of Representatives are also interested in finishing policy matters that went unresolved in 2019, including affordable housing, transportation, child care spending, recreational cannabis, and transit safety. Most notably, legislators will also soon decide what to do with the projected $1.3 billion budget surplus, if anything. Legislators are split as to what to spend the surplus on, with some preferring tax relief; and others, significant funding for education.
Insulin availability and affordability are expected to receive much attention over the next three months. Legislators have met routinely since May to discuss developing a package to help diabetics afford much-needed insulin and to increase drug availability. However, legislators remain split on how to handle the associated funding. Some prefer placing fees on the drug manufacturers, while others prefer forcing drug manufacturers to provide the drug free-of-charge to patients for one year as a relief measure.
The House of Representatives is also poised to advance significant legislation relating to gun control, including increasing mandatory background checks and permitting law enforcement to take guns from persons deemed dangerous to themselves or others. The Senate, however, has expressed interest in enhancing gun owner protections.
Recent news coming from the state’s largest agency, the Department of Human Services, has also spurred legislative conversations, primarily surrounding increasing accountability within the agency and perhaps measures to split up the department into smaller agencies.
Both bodies of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz have indicated they plan to propose and pass capital investment, or bonding bills, as is expected in the second year of the Legislature. To date, more than $5 billion worth of public building, higher education facilities, and transportation infrastructure requests have been submitted to the state, and legislators will be charged with winnowing those requests.
The governor also offered a $2.5 billion capital investment proposal, and the House of Representatives leadership has indicated it will put forth a robust proposal as well. The Senate, on the other hand, is unlikely to propose a bill larger than $1 billion and is more concerned with the projects in the bonding bill than an overall number. Transportation infrastructure remains a Senate concern and will likely be a priority funding item.
Legislators have until April 3 to introduce and consider the majority of the legislation for the year and must adjourn by May 18.
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