March 08, 2019

Minnesota Legislative Update: Legislature Weighs Bills on Sports Betting, Gun Control

Governor Tim Walz signed his first two bills into law this week. The first, HF 80, authored by Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) and Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), makes corrections to capital investments appropriated in the 2018 bonding bill. One of the major provisions appropriates $10.3 million to the Minnesota Pollution Control agency in the form of general obligation bonds for the cleanup of the Waste Disposal Engineering site in Anoka County. The bill also repeals funds used from the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund due to controversy regarding a lawsuit against the state.

The second appropriates $11.2 million to address MNLARS fixes and Department of Vehicle Services staffing through June 30. HF 861, authored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) and Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), also was declared a matter of urgency including a suspension of the rules. Concerns were raised regarding deputy registrar funding, but the majority parties in both bodies stated there is still plenty of time this session to address their needs. The bill passed the House 71-51 and the Senate 52-12.

Committee activity has intensified with the House and Senate having one week until first committee deadline. In order for policy bills to remain viable, they will need to have passed out of all the corresponding policy committees in the body of origin by then. If that is accomplished, they have until second deadline to meet the same requirement in the other body.

Governor’s Budget Proposals Introduced

The Governor’s budget proposals have started to be introduced in the Legislature. Next Tuesday, Gov. Walz’s tax bill, HF 2125, will be heard in the House Tax Committee. The committee will receive an overview of the bill and begin taking public testimony on Wednesday. The bill reflects the tax proposals in the Governor’s budget recommendation, including an increase in the working family tax credit and provisions for federal conformity.

Sports Betting

The Senate Tax Committee heard SF 1894, authored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), which would allow betting on sporting events on mobile applications and tribal casinos. SF 1894 is Minnesota’s first attempt to address a recent Supreme Court decision making it legal for states to implement regulations regarding sports betting. Sen. Chamberlain argued that sports betting is already occurring in Minnesota, and the state is better off legalizing and regulating the activity. Chamberlain testified that his approach is similar to Nevada’s and is not about trying to find a revenue windfall for the state. Opponents, including the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA), believe that SF 1894 is an expansion of gambling, impacts negotiated compacts between the state and tribal governments, and adversely impacts problem gamblers.

The bill passed as amended and was referred to the State Government Finance and Policy Committee. The bill currently has no companion in the House. A similar bill, HF 1278, authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), is awaiting a hearing in the House Commerce committee. HF 1278 will likely not be heard this session.

State Private Letter Ruling Program

The Senate Tax committee also heard SF 1537, a bill establishing a state private letter ruling program through the Department of Revenue (DOR), this week. Authored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), SF 1537 requires DOR to establish a program, similar to the IRS program, that provides guidance to taxpayers regarding tax laws to specific situations, transactions and arrangements. This bill would also allow for duel audits to take place at the same time to save on costs and disruption to taxpayers. Currently, Minnesota and Alaska are the only two states in the nation without such a program.

Proponents believe private letter rulings would help increase compliance and decrease costs for taxpayers while providing clear guidance regarding unclear areas of Minnesota’s tax code. The DOR testified that the Department has made significant strides in providing taxpayer guidance through revenue notices and have worked closely with tax professionals regarding the guidance they prefer. They also stated that establishing a private letter ruling program would require additional resources of approximately $7.5 million annually to hire up to an additional 100 FTEs. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion. The House companion, HF 1663, authored by Rep. David Lislegard (DFL-Aurora), is awaiting a hearing in the House Tax committee.

Gun Control Measures

This week, HF 8 and HF 9 were heard in the House Judiciary and Civil Law committee. The bills, carried by Rep. Dave Pinto (D-St. Paul) and Rep. Ruth Richardson (D-Mendota Heights), respectively, are part of the House Majority’s Minnesota Values package introduced in the first week of session. With many Democrats hoping to deliver on campaign promises to address gun violence, these bills aim to implement two measures they believe will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and reduce suicides: criminal background checks for firearm transfers and extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs). The bills are supported by Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan and their administration, and a number of groups, including advocate groups Mom’s Demand Action and Protect Minnesota, and law enforcement.

Testifiers and members in opposition to the bills argued that they increase burdens on lawful gun owners, offer limited room for due process, do little to stop illegal purchases that are already taking place, and do not enhance the safety of those with mental illnesses. In response, Democrats and advocacy groups testified that the measures in these bills are reasonable and essential to addressing the epidemic of gun violence. Testifiers also shared stories of losses they say could have been prevented by measures such as those in HF 8 and HF 9.

After impassioned testimony on both sides of the issue and no shortage of discussion from legislators, both bills were passed and sent to the Ways and Means Committee. The Senate has not acted on either bill or any related measure this year.

Important Dates

  • March 15, 2019 – First Legislative Committee Deadline
  • March 19, 2019 – Special Election for House District 11B
  • March 29, 2019 – Second Legislative Committee Deadline
  • April 12, 2019 – Third Legislative Committee Deadline
  • May 1, 2019 – All Finance Bills Passed Off House/Senate Floor
  • May 6, 2019 – Fiscal Targets Agreed to and Provided to Finance Bill Conference Committees
  • May 13, 2019 – Conference Committee Reports Due to Original Body
  • May 20, 2019 – Last Day of the Legislative Session

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