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Session crawls into overtime

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Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman speaks with reporters after adjournment of the regular session. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Minnesota lawmakers crossed the regular session finish line at midnight Monday accomplishing little on the final day and knowing that their work on a new two-year budget won’t be complete until they return for a special session.

Given the amount of remaining work, it’s unclear when legislators will return and how long they will need to stay.

Legislators need extra time because the budget deal Gov. Tim Walz reached with House and Senate leaders wasn’t finalized until Sunday night, and few conference committees were able to wrap up their bills in time Monday for floor votes. Negotiators had big disagreements on many policy items and made little apparent progress on reaching agreements on the big budget bills on the session's final day.

One exception was higher education.

Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, said the compromise increases funding by $150 million over the next two years.

“It’s good for our students, our systems our workforce and businesses. And just overall for today and tomorrow with regards to higher education, this is a good bill.”

The Senate passed the bill 62-3. The House vote was 84-49.

The agriculture and housing budget bill cleared the Senate but not the House, where it was tabled.

Despite the slow pace Monday, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said lawmakers will keep working all week.

“For the days ahead, we will continue to be meeting and hammering out the details of the bills and making sure that we are living up to the agreement between House, Senate and governor," Winkler said. "Obviously going into overtime is not what anybody desires, but we’re still intending to do the work in a pretty orderly fashion.”

Walz was optimistic about the remaining steps. But he was uncertain about the timing of a special session, which he must call.

“If it has to go to Friday instead of Thursday, that’s fine,” he said.

The broad outline of the new state budget was set Sunday night. Walz and House Democrats relented on a gas tax increase and Senate Republicans agreed to continue the health care provider tax, at a reduced rate of 1.8 percent. There’s $540 million in new education spending. Walz said he thinks the rest of the work will go smoothly with the same bipartisan spirit.

“One of the things I’m certainly getting the feedback on is the sense of kind of wow, Minnesota is functioning again. It’s working. We’ve got a compromise," he said. "I just don’t think there’s a lot of appetite now for someone saying ‘I’m not happy with the compromise. I don’t want that.’”

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who complained about being excluded from the budget negotiations, said he thinks a Thursday special session is unlikely because of the amount of remaining work. He wants to wait until after Memorial Day.

“You’re better off to get it right, get it done right with an open and transparent process than you are to rush it finished and make some mistakes and get something wrong,” Daudt said.

Despite the slow pace Monday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he remains hopeful of a Thursday special session.

“The point is we want to wrap up all the bills and really have them done. Then there’s the work of putting them together that still takes days and days and days. So, I know we’re close and I’m glad we made a deal and I’m glad we’re going to be done before June. I hope it’s Thursday.”

With other budget conference committees stuck, the governor  and legislative leaders began making final decisions after a series of closed-door meetings with committee chairs.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, the chair of the House education finance committee, said afterward that he was waiting for further instructions.

“I did not tell them when we would button up this bill. I think I’m awaiting direction from them on what the next steps are," he said.

Davnie’s counterpart, Senate education Chair Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said it was a great meeting.

“We had a limited amount of time to talk about those areas that were different in finance and policy, and we explained them well.”

Lawmakers used the final hours to take up legislation to fight the opioid crisis. The compromise measure will collect $20 million a year in new fees from drug companies to pay for prevention and treatment programs.

Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, said the changes are long overdue.

“Things are going to be different, and we’re going to be able to improve the lives of so many Minnesotans because of this bill today.”

The House passed the measure on a vote of 109 -25. The Senate passed it 60-3.