ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Legislature convened Friday for a special session to finish crafting a $48 billion, two-year state budget, with House Republicans threatening to draw out the proceedings because of their objections to the way top leaders negotiated the bills in a rush behind closed doors.
But House Democrats were already looking ahead to next year’s session and how they might turn Republicans’ stalling on key priorities against them in next year’s election.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Democrats “fought until the very last minute” to include some of their top priorities in the final bills but ran out of time before Monday’s mandatory adjournment for the regular session. She cited driver’s licenses for immigrants living in the country illegally, making it easier for workplace sexual harassment victims to sue and making emergency insulin supplies more affordable.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said they could raise their issues again next year - and use them against Republicans in the 2020 campaign when they hope to hold the House and retake the Senate. He cited gun control, paid family and medical leave and some education measures.
“We feel like we’ve made some progress this year and we have marked out where we want to go in the future,” Winkler said.
Hortman acknowledged that the end of a session can be a “pretty crazy, frantic time” but put a positive spin on the marathon closed-door budget talks she participated in with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.
“We will enact a two-year budget for the state of Minnesota that has really strong funding for our schools, and secures the health care for more than a million Minnesotans,” Hortman said.
GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt told reporters just before the House convened that his caucus had no plans to supply enough votes to suspend the normal procedural rules so that the session could be limited to just one long day as Walz had hoped. That was after Hortman said it would run Friday, Saturday and Sunday if Republicans didn’t cooperate.
But House Republicans did not object to suspending the rules so they could pass the first two bills of the special session and send them to Walz for his signature. One bill funds agriculture, rural development and housing programs. The other funds clean water, habitat and arts programs. Both passed by wide margins. Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu said her members had enough time to study the bills before voting.
Under the Legislature’s normal rules, bills have to be given their first, second and third readings on separate days before a final vote. Suspending those rules would require 15 House GOP votes.
Similarly, a $500 million public works borrowing package known as bonding bill - part of the deal that Walz, Hortman and Gazelka announced Sunday - would need six GOP votes to pass the House. The contents of that bill had not been made public as of Friday. Daudt didn’t say whether any Republicans would support it.
In contrast to House Republicans, Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate agreed to suspend the rules and pass the first two bills of the special session.
Gazelka then thanked Democratic Minority Leader Tom Bakk, saying “we can’t do it unless we do it together.”
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