July 18, 2024

Politics, Campaigning Stop Important Legislation

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When you call a legislative session perhaps “historically contentious,” with plenty of history of bitterly contentious sessions behind us, you must wonder just how bad it was.

As the clock on the 2024 session approached its final hour before midnight May 20, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) leadership in the state House and Senate dropped a 2,860-page omnibus bill on the floor of each body with both passing it in less than 15 minutes.

Minnesota’s DFL Party controls the state Senate by a single vote 34 to 33. It has a six-member majority in the House with 70 seats to the Republicans’ 64. What that means is the DFL has all the committee chairs who oversee bills their committees must approve to make it to the floor for a vote. It means they have all the leadership positions that can steamroll objections as legislation is voted on by members.

With Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also a Democrat, DFL-backed bills that passed the Legislature were almost certain to be signed into law.

The last-hour legislation was really an omnibus bill of omnibus bills. A bill that had taken all the proposed legislation in multiple categories from agriculture to environment to healthcare and more, into one gigantic bill.

Who knows what language can be slipped into a bill in the final form of a 2,860-page document? It may not just be Republicans who find out later the significant consequences of a minor change in bill language. It may also be rural Minnesota, our rural schools, or our rural businesses. It could be the DFL finding out the language it proposed was crafted as cleanly as intended with fixes required in the next session.

While Democrats said all the provisions in the bill had been heard and discussed during the session, Republicans said they couldn’t be sure what was there and what wasn’t without having time to examine each page.

Asking legislators to have trust in one another after years of bitterness exchanged between the two sides, with political maneuvering more important than compromise, is asking too much.

“So, we have to trust them now, at this point, after what they’ve done to us for the last two years?” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson was quoted by MinnPost as the session ended. “I don’t trust them. I don’t know what’s in this bill, and quite frankly, I don’t think anybody does.”

Democrats said the last-hour maneuvering was needed to complete their duties due to Republican delaying tactics.

“I am very, very proud of the work that we’ve done over the last two years,” Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy said. However, she had some reservations.

“I don’t like when we get to the end of session and we experience what we experienced tonight,” she said. “I don’t think anybody does. But nor do we like or appreciate when people use hours and hours of repetitive debate and repetitive questioning to slow the debate down. They’re both barriers to the work we need to do for the people of Minnesota.”

Despite the bitterness between the members of the Republican and Democratic parties, there were several pieces of important legislation that received strong bipartisan support. 

A bill providing $24 million in much-needed support for rural Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers passed with near unanimous support. Governor Walz signed the bill into law. 

Last year, the DFL-controlled Legislature passed the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibited discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. Republicans and religious organizations complained it violated religious freedoms guaranteed in the nation’s First Amendment.

Democrats agreed and voted with Republicans to restore an exemption for religious organizations. While Republicans claimed it was a major victory for them, it wouldn’t have happened without DFL cooperation.

These two bills show that compromise is possible, we just wish it happened more often. 

“I think we need to somehow try to find how to get along better and plan better to have endings that are better in terms of image, but also, we didn’t get some things done that I think are critical for rural Minnesota,” District 12 Republican Rep. Paul Anderson, who farms south of Lake Minnewaska in Pope County told us. 

What were the major needs of rural Minnesota going into the 2024 legislature session? More funding for childcare programs, support for workforce housing projects, and funding for community infrastructure needs to address aging water and sanitary sewer systems, but none of these were addressed this past session.

Bonding for infrastructure, one of the primary goals of the second year of a two-year legislative process, didn’t get to the governor’s desk. It passed the House, but was minutes late in getting Senate approval. How is that possible for something so important to Minnesota? Bickering and posturing for the 2024 election came first.

Legislation easing the permitting process for renewable energy projects by an estimated six to nine months did pass. Western Minnesota will likely see the impact of this expediting of the permitting process in wind and solar projects being built sooner rather than later.

A 345-kV powerline is likely to be running through Big Stone, Swift, Pope, and Douglas counties by 2030 with wind and solar projects, some utility-scaled projects, looking to feed it with green energy. These projects will raise questions about the use of farmland, their impact on neighboring properties, and what that means for rural Minnesota’s natural beauty.

Looking ahead to coming legislative sessions, Anderson is concerned about what the growing metropolitan dominance will mean for rural Minnesota.

The seven-county area surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul now makes up 54% of the state’s population and continues to grow. It has more legislators than the other 80 counties of the state. It leans Democratic.

Because rural Minnesota is dominated by Republican voters, the chairs of both the Senate and House agriculture committees are from the metropolitan area. Metropolitan legislators are likely to pass laws that will have an impact on rural Minnesota without having to live with the consequences of those laws.

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