ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers could call an end to the state's peacetime emergency and pass a $52 billion state budget this week when they return to the Capitol for a special legislative session.
But that's only if leaders in the divided Statehouse can strike agreements and pick up enough support in each chamber to pass them to the governor's desk.
For weeks, compromise has remained elusive as lawmakers met in private to hash out spending plans for Minnesota schools, roads and bridges, health care programs and public safety. Now up against a June 30 hard deadline, legislators will have to reach deals that can appease both chambers and both political parties and pass a budget or face a state government shutdown.
Legislative leaders and the governor this week said they were confident they could pass a budget before the end of the month, averting layoffs, closures and gaps in services. And they prepared to spend the weekend meeting with 10 working groups to break up sticking points that fueled disagreement and get bills ready for action next week.
“I’m super optimistic after yesterday that we’re getting some compromises reached,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters on Friday, June 11, after leaders met with four working groups a day earlier. "With absolute confidence, we'll be done by the deadline of the first of July. Whether we'll be done next week or not, we'll see."
Before they get back to the Capitol, here's a look at what's at stake during the special session.
Why are they being called back?
Walz said he planned to extend the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19 another 30 days and because the Legislature isn't in regular session, they'll come back to consider voting to veto that extension.
The peacetime emergency lets the state pull down federal disaster funds and activate the Minnesota National Guard, and it grants the governor more flexibility to enact law without the approval of the Legislature. Since the pandemic started in Minnesota, Walz has used the emergency powers to scale up testing and vaccination sites, place a moratorium on evictions, temporarily restrict businesses and social gatherings and mandate masks.
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The governor on Thursday, June 10, said this may be the final extension as the state works on an eviction moratorium offramp and arrangements that allow the Department of Health to continue testing for and vaccinating against COVID-19. Democrats have said they support keeping the emergency in place to allow a nimble response to the virus.
Republicans, meanwhile, have opposed the emergency for more than a year and have sought to end it. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said GOP lawmakers continue to fight for an end to the emergency and would push to close out the governor's emergency powers next week.
“We’re going to keep demanding that emergency powers end,” he said.
Both chambers of the Legislature have to vote against a 30-day extension to end the emergency.
What about the budget?
The Legislature closed out the regular session last month without finishing the one thing it is constitutionally required to do: pass a budget.
And in the weeks since the session came to an end, legislative working groups have been trying to put one together with mixed results. Three groups finished bills that they're set to bring to the Legislature next week. Meanwhile, 11 others remained in private negotiations.
Walz, Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, on Friday, June 11, said they were planning to work through the weekend to break up logjams in remaining budget bills, in hopes of getting them ready for a vote next week.
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The remaining disagreements stem from partisan priorities, they said. And while it'll be difficult for either side to let go, they expected many policy provisions would be eliminated before Monday.
"There are a lot of other issues in every bill that are eventually going to be agreed to or thrown overboard," Gazelka said.
That means disputes over voting laws, private school vouchers, changes to the state vehicle emissions standards and policing laws could get tossed if Republicans and Democrats fail to agree.
How long will it take?
Legislative leaders said they hoped to get a budget through in the coming week but the process of getting bills negotiated, printed and revised, even before they come up for debates and votes, could take additional time.
If bills are introduced on Monday, June 14, they couldn't come up for a vote until Wednesday unless lawmakers are willing to waive legislative rules and take them up. And once the proposals hit the floor, they could face extensive blowback from minority party lawmakers who said they weren't involved in writing the bills.
“It’s not going to be fast,” Hortman said. “Because the minority doesn’t want to play along, it’ll be an arduous couple weeks.”
If legislators can't pass the bills by June 30, they could force a state government shutdown.