Summer school funds, tax relief stuck as Minnesota lawmakers prepare for recess

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The issues became wedged in the Legislature as legislators split on the details of each or tacked on provisions that decreased support in the opposite chamber. Each was highlighted earlier in the legislative session as a measure that could be broken out ahead of a state budget and passed early this spring.

Meanwhile, Minnesotans that had pushed for quick action on those proposals remained without answers. But legislative leaders said they’d be ready to tackle those issues (and many more) once they returned on April 6.

“We’ll come back and we’ll race to the finish line,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said Thursday.

With lawmakers set to hit pause for the next 10 days, here’s a look at what happened this week in the Legislature.

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Summer school, tax relief funding on the fence

The Minnesota House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 23, advanced a $107 million plan to fund summer school programming for all students following months of remote learning for many learners. On a 69-63 vote, the DFL-led chamber pushed the bill through and urged the GOP-controlled Senate to take it up quickly.

To get schools ready to offer the learning options for preschoolers and K-12 students, Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday said the Legislature needed to pass the measure to his desk by April 15. Senators took up parts of the plan but hadn’t voted it through in its entirety.

“I urge the Minnesota Senate to finish the job and act quickly so we can ensure our students aren’t left behind,” the DFL governor said in a news release.

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Senate leaders said they were open to moving the funding but they hoped to tie it to a tax relief package. The Senate earlier this month advanced its plan to waive state income taxes for businesses that drew down federal COVID-19 aid to keep workers on their payroll and to provide partial relief for Minnesotans who collected unemployment insurance and now face state taxes on that income.

But Democrats in the House said they wanted to pass tax relief in a broader tax bill that was set to be unveiled in April.

Without one side willing to budge, both tax relief and summer school funding could remain stuck in the Legislature. And that raised concerns for stakeholders as deadlines for tax filings and school planning approached or passed in Minnesota.

“These are real lives and these lives are being affected by the decisions that are being made or delayed in the Legislature,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told reporters during a virtual news conference pushing for a tax conformity vote in the House.

Security funds stall out days before high-profile trial

House Speaker Melissa Hortman prepares to open the year’s seventh special session on Dec. 14, 2020. (Christine T. Nguyen / MPR News)

RELATED: Minnesota Speaker says there’s ‘no realistic path forward’ for trial security funding

While House Democrats as part of their $52.5 billion budget plan this week set aside $35 million for emergency police funding, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, on Tuesday said negotiations over a plan had stalled out.

Republicans were no longer interested in discussing the plan to put up state money for unexpected law enforcement costs, she said, since federal aid could help plug budget holes in Minneapolis if back-up police forces are needed and mutual aid agreements had already been reached there.

Law enforcement officials and Walz earlier this year called on the Legislature to set aside funds to entice police departments to assist Minneapolis in case looting or rioting erupted around the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer. In the House, the plan didn’t have enough support to pass. And in the Senate, two funding mechanisms were approved on a bipartisan basis, but they included provisions that Democrats said would tank the plans in the House.

At an impasse, Hortman said there was “no realistic path” for the state fund. But Republicans said they stood willing to help push a Senate bill through the House or to discuss a compromise.

Arguments in former officer Derek Chauvin’s trial are set to start Monday, March 29, in Minneapolis. And state and local police said they were prepared to protect those involved in the trial, along with peaceful protesters. They also warned that they would pursue anyone who sought to break the peace in Minnesota.

“We are ready to respond and we are committed to preventing bad things from happening,” Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said on Monday, March 22.

Walz exits quarantine, prepares for next phases

Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Thursday, March 25, emerged from a 10-day quarantine after a possible exposure to COVID-19 at a news conference. The trio tested negative for the illness, according to a spokesman.

RELATED: Walz, Flanagan quarantined after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

After a one-week postponement, the governor was scheduled to travel to Mankato on Sunday, March 28, to deliver his third State of the State address from his former social studies classroom. A year after the COVID-19 pandemic bore down on Minnesota and the governor issued a stay-at-home order, Walz was expected to outline the next phases of vaccine access and the state’s next steps to address the disease.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com