Walz signs first two bills of session

Lawmakers watch as Gov. Tim Walz signed the first two bills sent to him.
Lawmakers watch as Gov. Tim Walz signed the first two bills sent to him by the Legislature on Tuesday.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz put his signature on a $13.3 million stop-gap funding measure for repairs and improvements to the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System Tuesday. The action prevents state agencies from sending out layoff notices to the outside contractors working on MNLARS.

The other bill signed by Walz provides $102 million in state borrowing for environmental and infrastructure projects, including the cleanup of a toxic landfill in Andover. It reverses an earlier attempt to pay for the projects with money from an environmental trust fund.

Walz, who has been in office for eight weeks, noted that it was the latest first-bill signing since 1989.

"I'm proud to be here today. I'm proud that the process worked. I can tell you this that these final bills are a longways from where the two sides came in to start with. This is the way government is supposed to be."

Walz said agreements on the two bills were reached in private negotiations with DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. The governor said throughout the process, he was thinking about the end-of-session budget negotiations that lie ahead.

"We understood very clearly, this was a real run, but one with some training wheels on it for what May 20 could end up looking like."

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Gazelka also described the first bills as a potential sign of things to come. Gazelka said there was plenty of give and take during the negotiations.

"It shows that we can, as the only divided government in the United States, actually function in a way that's good for Minnesota. So, I too am very proud of it. I have great, great working relationships with the governor and the speaker. That bodes really well for Minnesota."

Gazelka said there are other private discussions underway on other matters, including competing plans for the next two-year budget.

Hortman said bills to fight opioid abuse and to prevent distracted driving could be among the next ones sent to the governor.

"The senator and I have been meeting weekly, and we have several bills that we'll be talking about this week, as we have been talking about every week, that are teed up for immediate action."

Conference committee negotiations are underway on authorizing the use of federal funds for security improvements to the state election system after the House and Senate passed significantly different bills.

Walz said election security was originally part of the negotiations on MNLARS and bonding but was set aside due to disagreements.

And the work on MNLARS isn't done yet. The deal required the House to jettison a $10 million provision to reimburse deputy registrars for expenses related to the system's performance problems. That money was in a bill the House passed last week. It will now move in both chambers as a separate bill.

The Senate transportation committee approved the measure Tuesday. Kelly Davison, owner of the deputy registrar office in Prior Lake, told committee members that her business is struggling and needs reimbursement soon.

"This year I have had to take a loan from my life insurance policy, so that I can keep paying my employees," she said. "Even after hiring five new people, we still can't keep up with our pre-MNLARS transaction counts."