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Here's what you need to know before Minn. lawmakers return for a special session

Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz on Sunday, May 19, 2019, announced a two-year budget plan with a day left in the regular legislative session. John Autey / John Autey Photography

ST. PAUL — Lawmakers closed out the 2019 session on Monday, May 20, with work left undone and will have to return to the Capitol to finish it.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he'll call a special session, likely on Friday, but he hadn't done that yet on Wednesday afternoon.

Before lawmakers make the drive back to the Capitol, here's a look at what they're dealing with and what Minnesotans can expect.

Why are they going into a special session anyway?

Minnesota lawmakers had until Monday, May 20, at midnight to wrap up a two-year budget. And they couldn't quite get there.

After legislative leaders and the governor told committee chairs what they could spend just a day before the Legislature was set to adjourn, many chairs couldn't finish their spending bills in time. Just one of nine omnibus spending bills, the higher education bill, got passed by the House and Senate.

Now, lawmakers will be asked to vote on the remaining eight bills and send them to the governor. They'll consider as part of those bills whether to continue a tax on medical providers that funds health insurance for children, elderly and disabled people as well as low-income individuals, whether to provide a tax cut to middle-class Minnesotans and whether to boost funding to public schools by $540 million over the next two years.

What's the conflict over coming back on Friday?

Well, for one thing, lawmakers worry it could impact lawmakers' Memorial Day weekend plans as any delays or long debates could take longer than a day.

Legislative leaders said they're confident that they could get in and out before the weekend as legislators will have an incentive to get done and get away from St. Paul.

Minority leaders, meanwhile, said that's too hasty a turnaround.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, floated starting a special session Thursday and holding committee hearings over the course of a week to allow Minnesotans to come in and testify. He said trying to pass the bills in a one-day session Friday when many were published Wednesday doesn't allow for adequate review.

Daudt, along with most lawmakers, has been left out of private negotiations between House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Gov. Tim Walz. While some backroom negotiations typically take place between majority leaders before budget bills get hashed out, this year's private talks have gone further, extending to decision-making about what goes into each spending bill.

And Daudt and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, haven't had a seat at the table in the negotiations, which could make them more inclined to draw out debates on the spending plans or to oppose a $500 million bonding proposal, which would need minority support to pass.

Could that doom the budget bills?

The minorities also play an important role in this special session as they could force a longer legislative session or sink certain proposals.

To suspend the rules and bring the bills to a vote, Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate will need a couple of votes from the majority parties. Without their help, it would take three days from the bills' introduction to bring the bills up for a vote.

Once the bills come up for debate, members of the minority could take hours on each proposal, if they wanted to, further extending the special session.

And on one key piece of the spending plan, members of the minority could block approval of the sale of $500 million in state bonds to fund infrastructure projects around the state.

Daudt has said he'll aim to use that leverage to make the case for some of his caucus's priorities, including maintaining funding for nursing homes. Walz and DFL House lawmakers have proposed providing lower reimbursement rates for nursing homes that continue to get low quality scores.

What happens if they can't reach an agreement?

If the chambers can't approve the budget bills, lawmakers could be called to renegotiate the spending plans or risk forcing a partial government shutdown after June 30.

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