June special session set for lawmakers

They’ll be back.

Minnesota’s 2021 regular legislative session ended at midnight May 17. With no state budget or major bills passed, the best lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz could do was reach general agreement on budget targets and decide to reconvene in a few weeks.

Until a June 14 special session, state leaders will be trying to hash out budget details. If they cannot pass a budget this month, the state could face its first shutdown in several years. The next fiscal year starts July 1.

Walz’s emergency powers under the pandemic expire June 14 so state lawmakers hope to have their budget packages ready to pass that day along with any special powers exceptions. Spending details were to be worked out by May 28, with policy issues hammered out by June 4.

The state budget is roughly $52 billion. With a $1.6 billion state surplus and about $2.8 bill in federal aid tied to the COVID-19 pandemic in the mix, there’s plenty to debate.

Disability advocates and their organizations are frustrated with the lack  of progress, especially the fact that not a single budget bill passed during the regular session. While some measures made it through conference committees and could become reality, many others must wait until 2022.

At one of the last Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) gatherings before the regular session’s, members and lobbyists discussed when Minnesota last had an on-time budget deal. Over the past 20 years, special sessions have been needed in all but three budget years. Those included partial state shutdowns.

Walz, House and Senate leaders held a news conference indicating that they had broad agreement on budget targets. But they admitted that many details and policy disagreements still had to be hammered out.

The agreements would including spending for education. That includes $75 million for summer programs, to help students who had to take remote classes during the pandemic. Extra education funding could be a help to many students with disabilities, who struggled with remote learning over the past several months.

Walz praised the general framework of the agreement, saying it took courage and leadership to hammer out. Republican leaders in the Senate are pleased that they staved off tax increases; House leaders point to the one-time federal aid coming in as making a budget deal possible.

But one-time funding has its limitations, and that is a big concern for disability advocates who want to see ongoing additional funding for needed programs and services.

A slew of issues remain unresolved. One atypical issue for disability service and advocacy groups centers on electronic or e-pulltabs. After the bill deadline passed, HF 2366 was introduced. Ut would terminate games that “display or simulate any other form of gambling, entertainment, slot machines, electronic video lotteries, or video games of chance.” The bill wound up in the House Commerce Omnibus bill. Foes said it went through with little public input.

It would not only affect nonprofits that get a share of bar gaming proceeds, it also would affect financing for US Bank Stadium.

The fiscal note for HF 2366 states that “all existing electronic pull-tab and linked bingo games will be prohibited under the proposed language.”

While 2021 was a session with very few bills that made it through, one end-of-session win for some people with disabilities expands the state’s medical marijuana program to allow use of cannabis in plant form. People enrolled in the program can now smoke cannabis for relief of a specific set of conditions. Several conditions can legally be treated with cannabis, with more added after a formal review process.

Foes said the measure is a back-door way of legalizing marijuana; supporters said it will provide cost savings for people who rely on cannabis for medical reasons.

The new medical cannabis law takes effect by March 1, 2022, or once a procedure is in place for the testing of dried raw cannabis from the state’s existing manufacturers.