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Legislature working out the details

Deal close on bonding package, tax bill

MINNEAPOLIS — Legislative leaders have agreed on most details of a public construction package and tax bill, the Minnesota Senate’s top Republican and the top House Democrat said Monday, while discussions continued on an elusive compromise on police accountability in response to the death of George Floyd.

Also on Monday, Senate Republicans presented a resolution intended to eliminate the governor’s peacetime emergency powers that were initially enacted to prepare the state for the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unlikely the Democratic-controlled House will approve the resolution.

Walz first put the state under emergency powers on March 13.

“The governor has extended his emergency powers for far too long, and it is time for balance to be restored,” said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. “Minnesotans have proven they are ready to continue down the road to recovery without his overreach. We are voting to restore local control and fair representation for our constituents. It’s time major decisions affecting the state of Minnesota and our citizens be made by the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the governor as outlined in our state’s constitution.”

The Senate vote to end the peacetime emergency was 36-31, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in support of the resolution.

Additionally, the Senate voted today to deliver funding for retention and reinvention grants to disability service providers who are under significant strain due to closures necessitated by COVID-19.

“Many Minnesotans rely on these providers every day,” Dahms said. “We will support them just as we have supported countless other entities who have struggled through this trying time. The excellent care and quality of life clients receive is essential, and we will keep advocating for the excellent work providers do in our communities.”

While both sides reported making progress on policing since last month’s special session ended in partisan acrimony, it remained unclear whether they’re close enough to bridge their differences during the new special session. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said lawmakers should focus on less controversial policing changes that can pass both chambers of the divided Legislature.

“The tough part is getting the details and the language, but it does feel like there’s been progress there,” Gazelka said at a news conference. He specifically cited a ban on choke holds and giving officers the duty to intervene when they see a fellow officer using excessive force as issues where they’re close.

Neither Gazelka nor House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, would give details about how they might resolve thornier policing issues. But Hortman said two Democratic proposals dropped due to GOP objections last month — putting the attorney general in charge of prosecuting officers in fatal encounters and restoring voting rights for felons — remain off the table.

At a separate news conference, Hortman said it helps that more time has passed since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day, and the protests and destruction that followed. But she said Floyd’s death made it clear that small changes aren’t enough.

“George Floyd was murdered here, in the state of Minnesota, by a Minneapolis police officer,” Hortman said. “This is our problem. We have to address it. … There is a genuine desire on the part of everyone to get there. The question is, will the reform and accountability that Republicans are willing to live with be good enough for Democrats?”

The most immediate chance for progress in this special session appeared to be on a public construction package, known as a bonding bill, that the leaders are hoping to have ready for passage next Monday. To get the required GOP votes, Hortman said it would include a sweetener that Republicans have long sought: a provision to conform the state’s tax code with a federal business tax break for new equipment purchases. The change would benefit farmers, as well as small businesses in the Twin Cities rebuilding from the unrest over Floyd’s death.

The combination bonding-and-tax bill must pass the House first, according to the state constitution, and it must pass each chamber with a three-fifths majority, which will require some bipartisan support in each chamber. The package would include $1.35 billion in projects funded by “general obligation” bonds that get repaid from the state’s general fund, as well as $447 million in projects from bonds that get repaid from other revenue streams, and $38 million in cash.

The leaders did not say which projects will make the final cut. But Hortman said they’ll include roads and bridges, housing, landfills, and public television and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

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