Daily Digest: More takes on session

Good morning, and welcome to Thursday. Here's the Digest.

1.  Walz to sign first of budget bills today.  Gov Tim Walz doesn't want to call this a status quo legislative session, even though some of his political allies and fellow Democrats have already started calling it that. "I think the status quo in government were shutdowns," the first term DFLer said in an interview with MPR News. Yes, lawmakers adjourned the regular session without a budget, and yes, Walz did have to call a one-day special session to finish the work. But he said things could have gone much worse negotiating a deal with one of the only divided Legislatures in the nation. “Functioning government matters,” he said. “In a very chaotic and unpredictable world, there's a sense that normalcy to how we go about our democracy is important.” Some of the items Walz focused on during his campaign last ended up not making it to the finish: a gas tax increase, new gun control measures, legalizing recreational marijuana. Instead, lawmakers passed a budget that spent more on education, continued a tax on healthcare providers that was set to expire and gave middle class Minnesotans a modest income tax cut. "I think Minnesota got a new pair of Rockport shoes this year, nothing fancy, nothing too exciting, but a good pair of sensible shoes that will move the state forward," said DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. Walz is reluctant to get into the nitty gritty of how negotiations went down, but he said getting the deal done wasn't easy. He wanted tax increases to pay for his priorities, and Republicans didn't. "I felt like if I had the cure for cancer and we needed to raise taxes to implement it, there would be a group of people who would say no." (MPR News)

2. Big differences made getting a deal tough. The 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature was one of high expectations. And low expectations. New Gov. Tim Walz and House DFLers raised them, hoping to carry momentum from the 2018 election with an ambitious agenda that included gun safety measures, paid family and medical leave, a public option for health insurance, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and more state support for education. On the other side of the Capitol building, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka lowered them. In a state with a divided Legislature — with the DFL in control of the House and the GOP in control of the Senate — neither party was going to be able to get much of what was on their wish lists, he said from the start. Instead, the Nisswa Republican recommended the Legislature and Walz concentrate on the one must-do item: a balanced state budget. That goal was always going to be tough. Despite a state surplus that began at $1.5 billion before falling to $1 billion in February, the process of crafting a budget faced similarly divergent expectations. The first offers were $2 billion apart — $47.7 billion for the Senate and $49.8 billion for the House — with the House using a variety of tax increases to pay for its version. (MinnPost)

3. Abortion lawsuit puts Ellison in difficult position. Abortion-rights supporters filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn Minnesota’s restrictions on abortion, including its 24-hour waiting period and parental notification requirements. The lawsuit, filed by Gender Justice and the Lawyering Project, argues that the restrictions violate the Minnesota Constitution and aren’t necessary to protect patient health or other compelling state interests. The suit argues that opponents have chipped away at a 1995 state Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion. The lawsuit puts Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison in a difficult position as both a staunch progressive and abortion-rights supporter. “I have a long history standing for the right to privacy and reproductive freedom, and I hold these views proudly,” Ellison said in a statement. “I am also Minnesota’s chief legal officer: in that capacity, I have a duty to defend the constitutionality of Minnesota statutes and will do so in this case. “We will review the complaint as soon as we are served, will evaluate our strategy, and will respond in due course.” Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said abortion opponents will be watching. “Attorney General Ellison must put his personal ideology aside and defend the laws of our state — we will be watching closely to make sure his office mounts a credible defense against this outrageous attack on Minnesota’s pro-life laws,” Daudt said in a statement. (AP)

4. Staffers protest safety conditions at state hospital. Staff at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center say safety conditions have deteriorated so badly at the state-run psychiatric hospital that many are afraid to go to work. Workers say staff members have been knocked unconscious, dragged across the floor by their hair and had feces and urine thrown at them. Recently, a nurse was hospitalized after being beaten by a patient — it was the 28th injury at the center due to patient aggression that was reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration this year. Incidents like these have become common since the facility began taking more patients after being found either incompetent to stand trial or a danger to themselves. “It is not set up to deal with people who should be in jail,” said Jennell Pettit, a social worker at Anoka Metro who joined colleagues for an informational picket in front of the facility Wednesday. Carrying signs that read “Assaulted,” nurses, counselors and other workers are demanding more staff and better security. (Pioneer Press)

5. Bee friendly lawn? There's a program for that. The state of Minnesota will help homeowners turn their lawns into bee-friendly habitat under a spending plan approved by the Legislature and sent this week to Gov. Tim Walz. The state will set aside $900,000 over one year to assist homeowners by covering much of the cost of converting traditional lawns by planting wildflowers, clover and native grasses in an effort to slow the collapse of the state’s bee population. The plan was trimmed down from the original House and Senate proposals, which would have provided funding for three years. The plan could help replenish food sources for pollinators of all kinds, but will specifically aim at saving the rusty patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy species on the brink of extinction that seems to be making its final stand in the cities of the Upper Midwest. The program would cover up to 75 percent of the cost of each conversion project, and up to 90 percent in areas with a “high potential” to support rusty patched bees. (Star Tribune)

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