ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House of Representatives on Thursday, June 17, spent hours debating a commerce and energy spending bill, marking the first step in passing a $52 billion state budget.
Lawmakers for weeks have worked in private meetings to complete 14 pieces of a two-year spending plan with an outline handed down from legislative leaders and the governor. And they have a June 30 deadline to finish a state budget or risk a state government shutdown, spurring layoffs, a pause in services and state office closures.
The House was set to take up three additional budget bills aimed at higher education, agriculture and outdoor heritage on Thursday or early Friday but Republican filibustering pushed back that timeframe. Hours after dinnertime, lawmakers continued to debate the first of the four bills, setting themselves up for a long night ahead. The remaining 10 budget bills remained in private negotiations or were set to come before a committee later this week.
Minnesota senators debated the four bills on Thursday but they had to delay votes until the House sent the proposals to the Senate. Also in the Senate, a committee on Thursday evening passed a sweeping jobs omnibus bill hammered out between House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle, as well as state Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove. The bill can now go forward to a full floor debate.
"Of course, nobody got everything they wanted, but this is a really good bill, it’s a robust bill, it’s complex and in many ways, its historic," Grove said at Thursday's hearing. "We are funding some things and doing some things in this bill that we have never done before in Minnesota and that’s an exciting thing for all of us to take forward as the economy needs our help so clearly in the months and years ahead."
Leaders in the GOP-led Senate and DFL-controlled House remain confident that all 14 budget bills would pass through both chambers before deadline, narrowly avoiding a state government shutdown.
"We are very close to July 1, we have a couple of weeks to pass a $52 billion budget, the time for debate on amendments has passed, we've had it, it is time to move forward and pass these bills," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said. “The minority’s actions on this floor will not stop us from passing a bill by July 1."
The expansive commerce and energy bill would provide additional protection against catalytic converter theft and children's toys that contain toxins, provide a bill of rights for Minnesotans that take out student loans and provide funding to roll out solar energy generation in schools.
The bill met strong resistance from House Republicans who said they were left out of closed-door budget negotiations and disagreed with several provisions of the proposals. And they raised concerns about the process of legislative leaders and a handful of committee chairs crafting the budget bills.
"These bills have grave deficiencies. The biggest one in this bill is that it does not reauthorize reinsurance and we have an opportunity to fix that. We need to send this back to committee and let members of the Legislature beyond the two that negotiated this bill and the 'Get Smart' crow in the cone of silence make the decisions about what's in here," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "Because that process failed us."
Debate continued Thursday night and lawmakers had multiple other amendments on the bill that could push debates into the evening and early hours Friday.