The key issues that passed and failed in this year's Minnesota legislative session

There are still a few issues to iron out.
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If you have missed most of the ins and outs of the 2019 legislative session, here's what you need to know.

The session ended at midnight last night, though a special session will happen later this week as not all of the final budget bills could be passed on time.

With the caveat that some things could change as the special session takes place, we've taken a look at some of the key issues that were talked about during the 2018 mid-term elections, and how they fared when they got to the legislature.

Things that didn't make it

The gas tax hike

While Gov. Tim Walz rolled out a budget proposal in February that included a 20 cent increase in the gas tax over the next two years, the tax was eventually left out of a final budget negotiated by Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman.

Republican leaders have touted this as a win for their “no new taxes” stance this session. In the middle of negotiations last week, Gazelka indicated the gas tax was “not an option” at a press conference.

Gun safety bills

Advocates for and against gun control measures have lobbied at the capitol throughout the session. These efforts culminated at a Senate conference committee last week when two DFL-backed gun control measures from the House were struck down on a party-line vote.

One of the bills would have required background checks for gun transfers between private individuals, such as at a gun show. The other would have allowed law enforcement and other officials to prohibit individuals they deem a significant risk to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm – known as the "Red Flag" law.

Marijuana legalization

Marijuana legalization also brought lobbyists to the capitol. Bills were brought forward to House and Senate committees that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but the Senate judiciary committee rejected the proposal, halting the bill for the rest of the session on a 6-3 party-line vote.

Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud) expressed concern at a March hearing that the bill did not go far enough into the policy’s effects. Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) offered an amendment to establish a task force to gather information on possible legalization, but this provision also failed.

Abortion bans

While debate around strict abortion bans in Ohio and Alabama continue, Republican lawmakers in Minnesota also introduced legislation regulating abortion. A fetal heartbeat abortion bill received support from Republicans in the House and Senate, with 35 signing onto the bill in the House. The policy would have banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable and established penalties for abortion providers. The bill did not receive a hearing in the House or Senate.

Things that have passed (or will)

The provider tax renewal

Final negotiations may have resulted in the removal of the gas tax from the budget, but another contentious tax remains. The provider tax, a 2 percent tax on doctors, hospitals, ambulances, drug distributors and providers for their services, is set to sunset at the end of this year.

The tax helps fund MinnesotaCare and other health programs for low-income individuals. Republicans opposed renewing the tax, claiming it burdens those with private or employee-provided health insurance. But the budget deal struck by Walz, Gazelka and Hortman included the tax, albeit reduced to 1.8 percent. Walz said Sunday that getting rid of the provider tax would put “too many people at risk."

At a press conference Monday, Gazelka said the inclusion of the tax in the proposal was a disappointment for his caucus. He didn't say the provider tax was struck to remove the gas tax, but told reporters they could make their own assumptions.

Provided it remains in the final budget deal passed during the special session, the provider tax is here to stay.

Opioid bill

An 11th-hour vote on Monday saw both the House an Senate agree on a bill addressing the opioid epidemic by imposing $20 million-a-year in registration fees on drugmakers and distributors that will be used to invest in "new and proven" strategies to combat the crisis.

Among those pushing the bill was Willmar Republican Rep. Dave Baker, whose son died of an overdose in 2011.

Hands-free phone bill

One from earlier in the session, with a new law coming into force on Aug. 1 that will make it illegal to make or take calls on your cellphone while behind the wheel, unless you're using the phone in hands-free mode.

Elder abuse bill

Late Sunday night, lawmakers passed a bill that aimed at preventing elder abuse in nursing homes. The bill establishes new licensing requirements for assisted living facilities, requiring facilities to provide elders with a bill of rights and put policies into place to prevent mistreatment within nursing homes. The policy passed with wide bipartisan support.

Bills still up in the air

With the Legislature constitutionally required to adjourn after Monday’s deadline, a number of policy items were left unaddressed.

Election security funding

Federal dollars to support Minnesota’s election security have been held up all session, even though lawmakers say the bill should have bipartisan support. Republican leaders in the Senate have said the state does not have a clear enough plan as to how it will allocate the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds. Now tied to omnibus bills, lawmakers on the state government conference committee did not publicly meet Monday, leaving the funding without a vote. The House bill allocates the full $6.6 million in HAVA funding, while the Senate does not allocate any.

Conversion therapy

DFL lawmakers have pushed this session to ban the practice of attempting to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, otherwise known as conversion therapy. Republican lawmakers have pushed back, with Gazelka stressing the importance of giving individuals who wish to change their sexual orientation or gender identity the right to seek out therapists or pastors, according to the Star Tribune.

The debate comes as Genna Gazelka, child of the Senate Majority leader, has spoken out about their experience with the practice and the harm it did to their wellbeing. Now the House health and human services omnibus bill includes the ban on the practice, while the Senate’s does not. The conference committee also did not meet publicly Monday. Gazelka stated in a press conference Monday night that the size of the omnibus bills, more than 1,000 pages, has posed a challenge for legislators to come to an agreement on time. 

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