ST. PAUL — Leaders in the divided Legislature on Monday, July 13, expressed optimism about passing a jobs and projects bill, tax cuts and police accountability measures as they returned for another special legislative session.
But they weren't ready to do that right away Monday as they wrapped up the legislative day without making public specifics of those plans or highlighting areas of dispute that so far prevented compromises.
Lawmakers were called back to weigh in on an extension of the state's peacetime emergency for the coronavirus and said they would take up several other pieces of unfinished business on which they failed to reach compromise during the regular legislative session and a special session last month.
Leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate agreed on a few things during separate news conferences Monday morning: both agreed to support a $1.35 billion bonding bill with a provision cutting taxes for businesses and both planned to make significant changes to the state's policing laws following the killing of George Floyd.
“I am optimistic. I don’t think that failure is an option in police reform and accountability,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said. “When we all watched the video of George Floyd’s last minutes of life, something changed in us, and in Minnesota that can’t be put right without taking action, we must take action.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, also expressed confidence about the proposals picking up support in the Minnesota Senate.
“The House and Senate majorities with the governor have a package of bonding and taxes that we for all intents and purposes have agreed to,” Gazelka said.
But as lawmakers reconvened, it wasn't clear that they would have the support of minorities in each chamber. The caucuses hold a special role in discussions about bonding, as there's a higher bar to approve the bill that greenlights state borrowing. House Republicans had said they wouldn't support the measure if the governor extended the peacetime emergency for COVID-19 and they previously took issue with a bonding bill bigger than $1 billion.
On Twitter, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, "Just to be clear, there is no agreement on a bonding bill. Our caucus supports a bill and we look forward to negotiating one."
Democrats in the Senate blocked a bonding bill there earlier this year, saying it wasn't big enough to address the state's economic problems. And members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus said they would block the bonding bill and other measures if Republicans failed to bring forth criminal justice reforms they pushed in the wake of Floyd's death.
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said she was also hopeful the Legislature could approve the priority bills during the special session but had not yet seen much of the compromise legislation worked out between Hortman, Gazelka and Gov. Tim Walz.
“I will say I want to see some bills, I want to see some information before we commit to it but we are ready to work and to do our part to help get these things through," Kent said. “Unfortunately, we have thrown the kind of traditional conference committee process out the window and that’s unfortunate, it’s unfortunate to the people of Minnesota, but I understand we have to get the work done and not everybody is willing to work transparently."
But with a deal to tie the bonding bill to a tax bill that would provide tax cuts to business owners, House Democrats and Senate Republicans said they were hopeful the plan could pass both chambers.
“By putting these two issues together, we make it possible to have both a bonding bill and a tax bill where neither would be possible on their own,” Hortman said. “For us to have both a bonding bill and a tax bill, they must be combined.”