Minnesota legislators headed toward chaotic and partisan finish of 2024 session

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The Minnesota Legislature's 2024 session chugged toward a chaotic finish Sunday, as Democrats loaded a tax bill with a panoply of proposals, turning it into a massive vessel containing provisions involving higher education, energy, transportation and increased penalties for straw buyers of firearms.

With the midnight deadline closing in, the Senate began debate about 10 p.m. on a bill setting minimum pay standards for Uber and Lyft drivers in an attempt to prevent the companies from leaving parts of the state. The House had already passed the bill, so Senate passage would send it to Gov. Tim Walz.

The blame-game escalated between the two parties with DFLers accusing Republicans of dragging out debates to prevent passage of bills. In return, the GOP said DFL Senate leaders shut them out of all negotiations and failed to manage the flow of legislation.

"This has got to be one of the most disgusting ends to a session that I have seen in the 12 years that I have been here," said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne. "The reality of it is, there have been a number of days that there could have been action taken, but never have I seen a mismanagement of a legislative session that I have seen this year."

Unlike the Senate, the House passed an expansive equal rights ballot initiative that would ask Minnesota voters on the 2026 general election ballot if they want to enshrine equal rights and abortion protections into the state Constitution. The Senate had not taken up the measure with an hour remaining.

The prospect of a bonding bill for infrastructure projects also appeared highly unlikely as did a late-hour attempt to legalize mobile sports betting.

"We are working very hard to bring the last of our work across the line," Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said Sunday afternoon. She accused Republicans of "putting down roadblocks after roadblocks" to drag out debates. Murphy said she believed her caucus had the votes to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, but not enough time.

The Senate, which Democrats control by a single vote, fell behind the House and played catch-up on Sunday. The Senate idled for 11 hours on Saturday as Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, was absent from the floor as he negotiated the Uber/Lyft bill. His absence meant the Senate was unable to move bills through much of the day.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said Democrats mismanaged the process by not doing more on Saturday. He called it "disingenuous" of the majority to criticize Republicans for seeking longer debates.

"The games that have been played lately in this chamber are unbelievable," Johnson said. "Yesterday, we sat around for 11 hours. We could have been doing a bonding bill at that time."

Republicans were outraged Sunday morning when Senate DFL leaders, in an attempt to move more quickly, cut off debate over cannabis regulations. Johnson said partisan relations had grown "a lot worse" on the final day of the session.

Murphy defended the process. She said the discussion had already gone about five hours and Republicans were "adding more names to the list to continue a debate that really wasn't about the policy."

The cannabis bill passed and went to Walz's desk. The Legislature also sent to the governor a bill with $24 million in one-time funding for struggling emergency medical services providers in greater Minnesota.

The House avoided cutting off debates, but House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, kept the option open. She noted the Senate had struggled with its workload because of the outrage after the arrest of Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, on a felony first-degree burglary last month.

"At a certain point in time, when the Senate experienced some unexpected events, the Senate GOP decided they were entitled to co-govern," Hortman said.

Throughout the evening, the House and Senate passed a series of routine, larger bills with supplemental funding for various agencies and programs. But a bill to allow cities to implement ranked-choice voting failed in the House; Democratic Reps. Rick Hansen, of South St. Paul, Michael Nelson, of Brooklyn Park, and Gene Pelowski, of Winona, joined Republicans to oppose it.

The prospect of a bipartisan bonding bill looked unlikely. Republicans had said they did not have enough say in the process this year. A three-fifths majority vote is required for the state to borrow money with a bonding bill, so DFLers need Republican votes to pass it.

"Everything is still at risk, because we have been completely shut out of the process," said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring.

Both chambers approved and sent to Walz a ban on Historic Horse Racing (HHR), a rebuke to the state's Racing Commission, which voted to legalize it this year. Opponents say the games are tantamount to video slot machines and violate the gambling compacts with the state's American Indian tribes.