March 06, 2020

Minnesota Legislative Update: Coronavirus and Super Tuesday Take Center Stage

Coronavirus and Super Tuesday were the major focuses at the Minnesota Capitol this week. On Monday state leaders outlined their response to coronavirus.

After decades as a caucus state, Minnesota voters participated in their first presidential primary since 1992. With Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar ending her campaign for the Democratic nomination one day prior to Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Bernie Sanders and other Democratic presidential hopefuls. President Donald Trump, who ran unopposed, won the Republican Presidential primary. Over 700,000 Minnesotans voted in the presidential primary.

With two weeks until the first committee deadline, policy committees began holding evening hearings to accommodate hearing requests and process bills. The pace of committee hearings is expected to continue accelerating through the end of the month.

Coronavirus

On Monday, Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and legislative leaders held a press conference to discuss how the state is gearing up for the arrival for COVID-19 (coronavirus). State preparations and best practices to limit the spread of the virus were discussed. State leaders urged Minnesotans to take the threat seriously and take personal precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. At the same time, they urged the public not to panic. While Minnesota still doesn’t have a confirmed case of coronavirus, state leaders expect that to quickly change.

The Minnesota Department of Health has requested an appropriation of just under $21 million to support staffing, lab testing, help for local health departments and "personal protective equipment” to combat the coronavirus. That appropriation would support public health actions and does not include funding that may be needed for direct patient care.

Bills have also been introduced in the Senate and House to address possible coronavirus impacts in the state. SF3813, authored by Sen. Jerry Relph (R- St. Cloud), would appropriate $5 million in fiscal year 2020 for public health response planning and preparation related to a potential outbreak of the coronavirus. The bill passed the Senate Finance Committee and was sent to the Senate floor. There is currently no House companion.

HF3980, authored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL- Rochester), takes a similar action to address the coronavirus concerns. This bill provides additional funding to the public health contingency fund, with an unspecified appropriation. On Wednesday HF 3980 received an informational hearing in the House Health and Human Services Finance Division. There currently is no Senate companion.

Street Improvement Fees

HF1095, authored by Rep. Steve Elkins (DFL-Bloomington), would allow a municipality to establish a street improvement district where new fees would be collected to pay for various infrastructure projects. These fees would apply to all parcels within the district except those owned by certain nonprofits. The municipality would have to adopt a street improvement plan and have a public hearing prior on that plan prior to imposing the fees. The bill passed the Subcommittee on Local Government and was referred to Government Operations. A large coalition of opponents argued that this is a new tax that can be applied by cities and counties with little oversight. The bill does not require any benefit test to justify the fee either. Proponents pushed that this will help local governments keep property taxes low while improving their infrastructure.

The Senate companion, SF1271, authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), is awaiting a hearing in Local Government Committee.

HF2296, authored by Rep. Tabke (DFL- Shakopee), takes a similar approach as HF1095 to address street fees for new development. The key difference is HF2296 applies the fee to building acreage. Proponents argue that these fees have been used in the past and ensure that cities do not have to raise property taxes on existing citizens to pay for new development. Opponents stated that these fees are unnecessarily burdensome on developers and raise the cost of developing new housing and commercial spaces. HF 2296 passed the Subcommittee on Local Government and was referred to Government Operations Committee.

The Senate companion, SF2242, authored by Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Local Government Committee.

Labor Bills

The House passed HF5, authored by Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), which would allow employees paid leave for family or medical issues. This bill was part of the House Omnibus Jobs Bill in 2019. Part of the DFL House “Minnesota Values Agenda,” the bill would establish an insurance program funded by employers and employees to allow employees to take paid leave. Employers could opt out if they provide an equal or better benefit. Proponents stated this will provide Minnesotans economic security and allow small businesses to compete in the job market with large corporations. Opponents raised concerns that the bill would put undue burdens on employers. The bill passed the House floor 70-59.

The Senate companion, SF1060, authored by Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury), is awaiting a hearing in Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.

Important Dates

  • March 20: First Committee Deadline
  • March 27: Second Committee Deadline
  • April 3: Third Committee Deadline
  • April 3-13: Legislative Recess
  • May 15-16: GOP State Convention
  • May 18: Legislature Adjourns
  • May 30-31: DFL State Convention
  • June 2: Candidate Filing Deadline for 2020 Election
  • August 11: Primary Election Day
  • November 3: Election Day
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