Special session begins with Walz emergency extension

A group of protesters fill the Capitol rotunda.
Protesters filled the Minnesota Capitol rotunda on the first day of a special legislative session on Monday. A special session of the Minnesota Legislature got underway Monday and will likely last most of the rest of the month. Lawmakers must pass a new two-year budget by the end of June to avoid a state government shutdown. 
Brian Bakst | MPR News

If you're thinking the Legislature has been holding a lot of special sessions, you're right. Gov. Tim Walz first declared a peacetime emergency over a year ago to address COVID-19. Since then, he has made a series of 30-day extensions that trigger a special session each time for lawmakers to weigh in.

Walz explained the need for another extension during a Monday morning meeting of the state executive council.

“It is very clear now that we are in the final stages, and that most of the executive orders, as I said, will unwind or have unwind, or will in the near future,” Walz said. “Today is simply re-upping the state of emergency so that the status quo of the work that we’re doing continues.”

The difference between the latest special session and most of the earlier ones is that lawmakers didn't finish work on a new two-year state budget before time ran out last month during the regular session. If there's not a new budget in place by July 1, it means there won't be money to operate state government. 

Closed-door negotiations on the budget have continued since May.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka introduced a first-day bill to keep money flowing to state agencies if there is not a new budget by month's end. But Gazelka said he remains confident that a government shutdown will be avoided.

“We’re going to get done. It’s not easy. Most everything is together,” Gazelka said. There are a few things that we have a few loose ends, but it is absolutely coming together. The speaker, myself and the governor, we’re going to get it done.” 

Agreements are in place on budgets for agriculture, commerce, higher education, legacy funding and transportation.

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said several other bills are close, but some are not.

“Public safety is, as everyone expects, is going to be probably the last bill to wrap,” Hortman said. “It’s a little bit more challenging on both the finance side and the policy side.”

House Democrats continue to push for several police accountability measures as part of the public safety bill. Some policy proposals will be jettisoned later this week if there’s no agreement, Gazelka said.

Hortman expressed confidence that negotiators will wrap up the remaining bills before the end of the month and that a government shutdown will be avoided. The special session will last seven to 10 days, she predicted.

“I don’t think we will be close to June 30. I would expect that we will be done days before that,” Hortman said. “However, the House GOP minority has placed five demands on our plate, and has promised to take a very long time to pass these budget bills unless their demands are met.”

One of those House Republican demands is ending the peacetime emergency. The Republican-controlled Senate has voted multiple times to end the governor’s emergency powers, but the DFL-controlled House has not. 

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt led a first day challenge to the extension Walz issued.

“Everybody, save one person, realizes that the pandemic is over,” Daudt said. “And today, I’m going to give you an opportunity to send the message to that last person who is holding on, our governor.”

As before, the Republican effort in the House failed to get enough votes after a lengthy debate. The Senate did not take up the issue on the first day of the special session. 

And while Daudt and his colleagues lost another round in that fight, minority House Republicans do have the power to slow the special session down. 

Without their cooperation to waive some rules, it will take extra time to bring budget bills to the floor and vote on them. That means even the budget bills where negotiators have reached agreements cannot be debated until late in the week.

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