Time pressure builds on Minnesota lawmakers as pace of bill consideration picks up

The Minnesota State Capitol just after sunset
The Minnesota State Capitol is illuminated shortly after sunset on May 7.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated 8:15 p.m.

Minnesota lawmakers picked up the pace Wednesday, moving through several sprawling bills and other measures with three voting days left before their adjournment deadline.

Even as agreed-upon legislation was attracting final votes, the DFL-led Legislature still had a fair amount to do. Lawmakers had several spending touch-up bills, a public construction projects bill, an equal rights amendment, a proposal to legalize sports betting and minimum wages for rideshare drivers outstanding.

Among the items to advance Wednesday:

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  • A broad education policy bill that prohibits local governments and school boards from banning books in libraries, sets a deadline for schools to adopt policies around cell phone use and adds protections for student journalists.

  • A health and human services policy bill that attempts to close gaps in opioid treatment program staffing and adds more transparency to certain nursing home transactions.

  • A proposal to require state and counties to prioritize keeping African American families and disproportionately represented families together in the child protection system.

  • A labor and industry policy bill that would set the state’s minimum wage at $10.85 per hour, ban terms that are essentially non-compete clauses in work contracts, require that 100 percent tips paid on a credit cards go to tipped employees and require that employers with at least 30 employees post their salary range in job postings. 

  • A public safety proposal that includes more money for court interpreters, boosts penalties for fake 911 calls that send authorities to the homes of public officials and makes police body camera footage public if incidents involve elected lawmakers, from the governor to state legislators.

Republicans are in the minority in both chambers and continued extensive debate on some of the bills Wednesday, slowing their passage. That could whittle down the eventual body of work because anything not voted upon by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday is stymied.

In the Senate, GOP lawmakers brought a motion to expel DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell, of Woodbury, following her burglary arrest last month. It was ruled out of order and further action was held off on a party-line vote.

For weeks, DFLers have resisted efforts to impose discipline or reach an ethics finding against Mitchell until her criminal case is aired in court, which won’t come before the session finishes. Republicans say that’s unacceptable given the 34-33 power split.

“If I ever did something so egregiously wrong, I would hope you would all bring the same motion against me. That’s how serious it is,” said Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville. “What’s the threshold for holding each other accountable? If not this? What does one have to do for their fellow members in the Minnesota Senate to say you have crossed a line?” 

But the divisions go deeper.

GOP leaders this week said they would grind discussions to a halt if Democrats refused to include them in discussions about a capital investment bill, which funds construction projects across the state. Republicans also set conditions for working with DFLers to pass the bill, including adding $30 million for emergency medical services and dropping trigger provisions in a gun bill heading into conference committee. 

Republicans have unique leverage in discussions about capital investment bills because their votes are needed to let the state take on debt to finance projects.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, urged DFL leaders to skip a vote on the equal rights amendment. 

“If this had been a true priority for House Democrats, they would have had this done earlier,” Demuth told reporters on Tuesday. “The Senate did pass the ERA bill last year. The House has waited, the Democrats have waited to bring that up until the final weeks of session. So that is part of a discussion." 

The proposal to put the amendment before voters in 2026 could come up for a House vote later Wednesday. But its prospects in the Senate are uncertain. Republicans also said they would withhold votes on the bill unless Gov. Tim Walz signed into law a bill that added clarification in the Minnesota Human Rights Act giving religious organizations some exemptions.

Walz signed the bill Wednesday.

Negotiations to close out the legislative session on time took place late Tuesday, out of the public eye. It wasn’t clear whether DFL and GOP leaders were able to come closer to a deal.

Late Tuesday, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy said that Republicans were “intentionally throwing up roadblocks and delays.”