Politics and Government

Rideshare driver pay, equal rights amendment in flux as Minnesota lawmakers race the clock

The Minnesota State Capitol just after sunset
The Minnesota State Capitol is illuminated shortly after sunset earlier this year.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated 10:15 p.m.

As the clock ticked down on the final two days of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session, lawmakers pushed to wrap up a raft of state budget bills, a capital investment bill, an equal rights amendment and rideshare driver minimum pay bill before they ran out of time.

With a Sunday night deadline to finish their work, legislators prepared for marathon floor debates throughout the weekend. Leaders in both chambers said they expected to prioritize bills that would fund state agencies and programs. But they acknowledged that they would be racing the clock to finish everything before them in the remaining hours they have to vote.

While the House approved several spending bill Saturday, the Senate came in then recessed for 10 hours without explanation. Just before 10 p.m. DFL leaders and Gov. Tim Walz said they’d reached an agreement on rideshare driver minimum wages and protections.

“It takes time,” Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, told reporters on Saturday night. “There are multiple parties that have been involved in this effort. And things generally when you're about ready to reach the conclusion, there's a lot of intensity, and we made sure for the important purpose of this legislation that we are giving the time that we needed to to get this done.”

Walz, who vetoed a ride-share standards bill a year ago, indicated this one would pass muster.

“Our economy can work,” Walz said. “It can work for workers. It can work for the companies. It can work for the consumers.”

Uber and Lyft didn’t immediately confirm that they would remain in the state under the proposal, if approved by both chambers and signed into law.

GOP leaders said they’d not been involved in the negotiations and would withhold votes on bills crafted without their input. “We were kept in the dark the entire time tonight. So this is very disappointing,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson.

Entering the final weekend of the session, GOP and DFL leaders were at odds about an agreement that would allow them to pass a public construction projects bill. Republicans have unique leverage in the discussions because their votes are needed to let the state take on debt.

Republican leaders earlier this week said they wouldn’t put up votes on a bonding bill unless DFLers approved rural EMS funding and skipped a vote on an equal rights amendment. DFL leaders advanced the EMS funding package, but said they wouldn’t shelve the amendment.

Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, stressed to MPR News earlier in the day that there was a limited window to reach a deal.

“There’s so much work, I mean, just discussion and just research that has to be done on these bills,” Johnson said. “We’ve got 36 hours to do that. I don’t know how this plane lands, but it’s going to be very interesting for all of us.”

Two lawmakers hold boxes of popcorn.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, left, and House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, right, ate popcorn at the Capitol after a meeting with DFL leaders was canceled on Saturday afternoon.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

A scheduled negotiation late Saturday afternoon between DFL and GOP leaders was abruptly canceled. Johnson and House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, strolled around the Capitol and ate popcorn as they waited for updates from DFL leaders.

Lawmakers don’t have to do anything this year. They approved a two-year budget last year so the state government won’t shut down even if the Legislature fails to pass more than a dozen top-off spending bills.

Despite that, local governments, EMS providers, state agencies and several advocacy groups are counting on the Legislature to pass measures approving funding for projects or new policies.

As lawmakers power through the final hours of the legislative session, here’s a look at what they’ve finished and still need to wrap up.

Public construction projects

The Minnesota House was preparing to take up a public construction project package on Saturday, despite opposition from Republicans in the chamber. DFL leaders said they put together the bills to fund state and local government road, bridge, wastewater treatment and deferred maintenance projects around the state.

Democrats said they wanted to move ahead with the bills and update projects in districts represented by Republicans as GOP lawmakers brought those forward, but they worried about getting a bill pulled together in time. 

Republicans said the bills didn’t represent the projects that they wanted to see move forward. Legislative leaders and the governor were expected to meet late Saturday afternoon to discuss a capital investment package and other priorities.

Rural emergency medical services funding

The Minnesota Senate on Saturday unanimously approved a bill that would boost emergency medical services in rural parts of the state by $24 million. The proposal would also set up sprint medic pilot projects in Otter Tail and St. Louis counties and replace the Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board with the Office of Emergency Medical Services.

“Everybody in the state of Minnesota deserves the same high level of pre-hospital care regardless of where you live, regardless of where the closest hospital is and regardless of whether you’re in a red district or a blue district,” said DFL Sen. Judy Seeberger of Afton, the bill’s author. “This is a nonpartisan issue.”

Service providers have said they need $120 million to be made whole. Lawmakers said the funding was just a start and they would approve more in 2025. The bill moves to the House for a vote before going to the governor’s desk for a signature.

Rideshare pay and protections

DFL legislative leaders and the governor late Saturday said they’d reached a deal on rideshare driver pay that would preempt a Minneapolis city ordinance and set a minimum wage for drivers at $1.28 per mile and 31 cents per minute.

The issue postponed debates in the Senate as DFLers in the chamber tried to get their caucus aligned on a plan that could satisfy 34 members (the number needed to pass a bill).

“We need to pay our drivers a fair pay. We need to give them the same protections,” Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “Nobody gets behind those wheels and says that I'm not going to go home tonight to my family.”

They are working against a July deadline because Uber and Lyft have said they would leave the metro area if a Minneapolis ordinance establishing minimum wages for drivers takes effect. The bill would preempt the pay rates established in the city’s policy.

Outside the House and Senate chambers, dozens of rideshare drivers yelled out to lawmakers urging them to approve “fair pay.”

A large group hold signs up within the state Capitol.
Rideshare drivers rallied at the Capitol Saturday and pressed lawmakers to approve a bill setting minimum wages for drivers.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Equal rights amendment

The House took up the amendment for debate twice Friday before tabling it to move conference committee reports. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Minneapolis, said the chamber would pass it but it wasn’t clear whether it would have the votes needed to pass in the Senate.

The amendment would add a constitutional amendment barring discrimination based on someone’s race, class, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or “decisions about all matters relating to one’s own pregnancy or decision whether to become or remain pregnant.”

DFLers in the chamber said it was important for lawmakers to send the question to voters in 2026. If approved in both chambers, Minnesotans would decide whether to add the language to the state’s Constitution.

Republicans said the proposal could derail other proposals at the Capitol.

Sports betting

The Minnesota House of Representatives stood ready to take up bills that would legalize sports betting and prohibit historical horse racing. DFL leaders said the historical horse racing is a priority because they felt the Minnesota Racing Commission took an unlawful action earlier this year when it allowed horse racing tracks to offer the casino-style games.

There is bipartisan support, as well as opposition, to the sports betting legalization efforts in both chambers.

Cannabis regulations

The Minnesota House on Saturday approved a bill that would speed up the process for getting cannabis dispensaries lined up by giving them a route to pre-approval of operating licenses.

Lawmakers voted to allow the office to start issuing license pre-approvals this summer. Supporters say that would allow them to secure funding, rent real estate and take other steps to get up and running. 

In less than a year, the state expects a broader array of cannabis stores to be up and running. Before that can happen, growers and distributors will have to get licensed through the state.

The proposal needs Senate approval before moving to the governor’s desk.

African American Family Preservation Act

A bill that would set up extra systems to keep Black kids with their families in the child protection system is on its way to the governor's desk. The Minnesota House approved a compromise version of the bill today. 

Under the bill, the state and counties would have to take steps to prevent out-of-home placement of African American — or disproportionately represented children. And if a court finds that out-of-home placement is needed, an order would have to prioritize a family member or friend designated by the family.

Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, said it’s important to address the outsized representation of African American families in the child protection system.

“It’s the beginning of a process of repair and harm that has been done to families, particularly families of color, that in the United States oftentimes get their children taken away without questions asked,” she said.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he will sign it into law.

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