Paid family leave today, ‘last chance’ at bonding bill in Senate this week

People cheer in the chamber-1
Supporters of the proposal to create a state paid family and medical leave program hoisted signs and greeted members of the Minnesota House on May 2 as they entered the chamber. The Senate is expected to vote in its plan on Monday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Updated 12:20 p.m.

The Minnesota Senate on Monday began debating a proposal to create a statewide paid family and medical leave program. Meanwhile, another proposal to spend $1.9 billion for capital projects could take key steps forward — or pave the way for a more partisan path this year.

With just two weeks left to wrap up their business, lawmakers will work around the clock this week to finish massive budget bills. 

Over the weekend, some conference committees met to try to finalize their proposals. And bills spanning agriculture, environment, commerce and veterans affairs appeared poised for passage in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Still in the works are massive spending plans for schools, health, human services, public safety and taxes. Different pieces of a new state budget passed by the Senate and House have required more time for legislators to negotiate. And if they can’t reach compromises soon, policies around tax and fee increases, gun policies and sports betting could be left until next year.

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“It's not like if things don't get done in 2023, that they won't get done with this Legislature,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said. “So we will, as the days drift away here, get more and more focused on only the state budget. And things that are too conflict-laden, that don't relate to the state budget, will get set aside.”

Paid family leave up for a Senate vote Monday

Under the Senate paid family and medical leave plan, workers and employers would pay into the program through a payroll tax and workers could then receive partial payment replacement pay as they take time off work to care for a new child, recover from an illness or care for a loved one.

The Minnesota House last week passed a similar measure and if the Senate passes its bill, the versions would have to be lined up in a conference committee. The biggest difference between the two versions is the amount of paid leave time a worker could take in a year.

Supporters and opponents for months have pressed lawmakers on the issue. And it’s not certain that Democrats in the chamber would have the votes to pass the plan. The House bill passed that chamber with the bare minimum of votes needed.

People clap in a crowd
Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, Sen. Jen McEwen during the PRO Act signs ceremony on Jan. 31 at the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“We’re hopeful,” Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said Friday on MPR’s Politics Friday. 

Dziedzic is still recovering from a March cancer surgery that involved removing her spleen, appendix and uterus. She said that her position in the Senate allowed her flexibility to work remotely and to be paid for her time away from the Capitol.

She said that she met another woman in the hospital who didn’t work remotely and couldn't take paid time off to recover. Dziedzic said that having a statewide paid leave program could help avert situations like that.

“From having a baby to having major surgery, I think it is important that people are able to stay home and not lose their health or run into a financial situation while they are recovering,” she said. “I think it helps all of us and helps our economy.”

Republicans have opposed the plan and said that lawmakers should consider a private option, instead, along with more incentives for businesses to offer the benefit.

A ‘last chance’ for bonding bill

Last week, the Minnesota Senate voted unanimously to send a $1.5 capital investment bill back to the Finance Committee for revisions. Back in March the bill came up short of the three-fifths majority it needed to pass after Senate Republicans said they wouldn’t support it unless DFLers adopted tax cuts.

Hortman told MPR News that DFL leaders approached Senate Republicans about a deal to get the bonding bill across the finish line. But she wouldn’t share details of that proposal.

“We're giving the Senate Republicans kind of one last chance,” Hortman said. “If they don't take the very reasonable offer that we put on the table for them, we will have to at 5’oclock on Monday evening, proceed with having the capital investment chairs proceed with the DFL-only bill.”

On Monday, a spokesman for Hortman said the deadline had been moved to Tuesday afternoon after DFL leaders failed to connect with Senate Republicans over the weekend.

The House passed the $1.9 billion capital investment package earlier this year that included approval to issue bonds for new projects, along with cash. Democrats have said they’d move a cash-only bill that wouldn’t need GOP sign-off if they couldn’t reach a compromise.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said late last week that conversations about the bill were ongoing and that the move to send it back for revisions was a good sign.

“I’m hoping that we can move that ball forward in the next week or so in a way that really shows that we’re investing in Minnesota in a responsible way,” Johnson said on Politics Friday.

A man and a woman laugh as they talk
Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks and Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, talk to a reporter on the Senate floor.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Some budget areas poised to advance

As of late last week, conference committees had reached or come close to wrapping up deals on agriculture, environment and climate, commerce and veterans affairs.

Included in the environmental and natural resources bill was a plan to tackle so-called “forever chemicals.” It includes a widespread ban on PFAS in numerous products such as carpet, cleaning products, cookware, cosmetics, dental floss, children's products and ski wax.

Rep. Sydney Jordan, a Minneapolis DFLer, said it was one of the most comprehensive PFAS prevention and response measures in the country.

“Everywhere we look for PFAS, we find it,” Jordan said. “And the other thing too is Minnesota invented PFAS and these forever chemicals. And then with this package we're going to invent the solution to how we can move forward to a world with without forever chemicals.”

The bill would require manufacturers to report PFAS in their products, and also would ban non-essential uses of PFAS after 2032. Medical devices would be exempt. The measure still needs the approval of the full House and Senate.

Questions yet to be resolved

One of the big decision points remaining for the Legislature is whether to impose a 75-cent delivery fee to help pay for road construction.

The fee is included in a House transportation bill but didn’t get into a corresponding Senate package. Negotiators are discussing it as a long-term funding stream as the gas tax has diminishing buying power. It’s unclear if it has the political support to go the distance.

Opponents have ramped up their campaign to keep the fee out of the final deal. A coalition fighting the charge assembled at the Capitol on Friday to criticize it as a burden on consumers and businesses. The group included retail, e-commerce, religious figures and some civic leaders.

The Rev. Charles Gills of Pilgrim Baptist Church said a 75-cent fee would be a particular hardship on people who can’t drive to stores.

“This is not for the year, but per order that happens,” he said. “And oftentimes, it's not just one order for the month for persons that need these services.”

House Transportation Chair Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said he’s not ready to abandon the idea.

“We know that there’s concerns and we've met them. But there's also a real need to invest in our infrastructure,” Hornstein said. “There's nothing that lifts people out of poverty more than a good transportation system, particularly public transit.”

As proposed, the fee exempts certain groceries, medications and other nontaxable items. Supporters say it would help fill funding gaps given that the gas tax no longer keeps up with transportation infrastructure needs.

Gov. Tim Walz has hardly embraced the surcharge, which wasn’t part of his budget proposal. But he said he welcomes the “honest conversation” about how to pay for transportation in the long run.

A man smiles as he tours a fish hatchery
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan tour the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources St. Paul hatchery on May 1.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Senate Tax Committee Chair Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, told her conference committee on Saturday that another proposed revenue raiser – a worldwide combined corporate reporting tax – didn’t have Senate support. She said the panel would try to find another way to generate more than $450 million over the next two years in its place.

As of Sunday evening, a public safety committee had not reached a final agreement on its omnibus bill. A House version included a pair of gun control measures that would require universal background checks to purchase a firearm and an option to remove someone’s firearms if they’re believed to pose a risk to themselves or others.

And while a plan to allow sports betting in Minnesota again came up for committee consideration last week, it wasn’t clear that the bill could pick up bicameral support in time to pass this legislative session.

MPR News reporters Brian Bakst and Kirsti Marohn contributed to this report.