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Minnesota lawmakers worry about mistakes in rush to pass state budget, special session planned for Friday

Nicole Smith-Holt speaks with reporters at the Capitol on Monday, May 13. Advocates for Minnesotans with Type 1 diabetes hope lawmakers will approve legislation aimed at providing emergency access to insulin for those who can't afford it. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, May 23, announced that he would call lawmakers back to the Capitol to approve the bulk of a $48 billion spending plan despite growing concern about rushing the bills to a vote hours after they were crafted.

Walz and legislative leaders announced the special session set to start Friday at 10 a.m. But minority leaders, who had new leverage in the conversation, said passing the spending bills without giving lawmakers enough time to read them would be a mistake.

The news of a special session came hours after the massive health and human services spending plan — the final piece of the budget puzzle — was wrapped up in private meetings. Details of the final catch-all spending proposal came to light Thursday and a proposal to fund emergency insulin for uninsured diabetics seemed to fall by the wayside in late-night private negotiations.

For days, two top legislative leaders and the governor have been working with conference committee chairs and commissioners to hammer out spending plans for various areas of state government. One by one, the proposals have been published after House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Walz signed off on their contents.

“I am proud that we came together across party lines to build a budget that will improve the lives of Minnesotans,” Walz said in a statement. “Now it’s our responsibility to take that budget across the finish line.”

Now, the Legislature will have to approve a state budget plan or risk forcing a partial government shutdown.

Minority leaders gain leverage, warn against efforts to 'slam' budget through

As lawmakers waited on a call from the governor to return to St. Paul for a special session, many worried that rushing back would prevent them from understanding the massive spending bills before they were asked to vote on them.

“I just don’t understand the urgency of trying to slam this through knowing there are going to be mistakes,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said before the announcement. “It’s going too fast and there’s no reason for it.”

Bakk said he spoke with the governor Wednesday night and urged him to "take a breath" and not rush lawmakers into a special session. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, also met with the governor and DFL House leaders Thursday night to discuss a special session.

Daudt urged legislative leaders and the governor to give lawmakers, lobbyists and members of the public a chance to read the bills and comment on them before bringing them up for a vote.

“We need to see transparency,” he said. “If they want to have a special session that’s smooth and that’s one day, we need to see some transparency, the public needs to be involved in the process, we need to see what’s in these bills.”

Bakk and Daudt have a position of power in the special session, as their caucus' support is needed to suspend the rules and waive the number of readings each bill needs. That could expedite the debate and voting process, and they could swing the votes needed to pass a bonding bill.

Traditionally, minority leaders enter into agreements with the governor about the parameters of a special session and the number of amendments they can bring on proposals. Spokespeople for Bakk and Daudt said they hadn't agreed to such proposals.

Before the announcement of a special session, Daudt said his caucus had not yet reached an agreement on allowing the rules to be suspended or approving a bonding bill.

Lawmakers had until Monday at midnight to approve a two-year state budget, but the clock ran out before they could get it done. One spending bill, which would fund higher education, made it through the House and Senate. But eight other bills that outline spending to areas of state government like education, agriculture, jobs and taxation weren't completely fleshed out.

Emergency insulin proposal falls out of catch-all spending bill

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, chairwomen of the House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees cast blame on one another for the proposal not making it into the final spending bill.

Advocates for the insulin funding proposal pressed lawmakers to reopen negotiations to get it into the budget proposal. The bill was named for Alec Smith, a Minneapolis man who died of complications from diabetes after rationing his insulin.

Sen. Matt Little, D-Lakeville, said he was considering different paths to amend the bill or reopen negotiations to get the proposal back into the larger spending bill.

"They're saying on Twitter that it was politics on one side and a clerical error on the other. It makes no sense to me," Little said. "I guess from my standpoint, we're just trying to get it back in."

Green light for election security money emerges in state government bill

The state government spending proposal published Wednesday includes a green light for the state to accept $6.6 million in Help America Vote Act funds aimed at beefing up the state's election security efforts.

Allowing the Secretary of State to access the federal dollars was expected to be an "early win" this year, but former secretary of state and Senate State Government and Elections Committee Chair Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, held up the proposal until the last minute without explaining her reasoning for the delay.

The proposal would also fund another $20 million in cybersecurity programs for state government. With Minnesota on the brink of losing a seat in Congress, the bill would put $1.6 million more toward shoring up the state's preparation for the 2020 census.

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