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2015 Legislature: Here's what they did – and didn't – do


Months of talk led to days of action at the Minnesota Capitol, allowing lawmakers to pass a new $41.5 billion two-year state budget just before their adjournment deadline Monday night.

On Monday, eight of the 10 major spending bills got through the Legislature, the Session Daily says, providing funding for:

  • health and human services
  • E-12 education
  • transportation
  • judiciary and public safety
  • state government operations
  • environment, natural resource and agriculture
  • higher education
  • jobs and energy programming

The satisfaction was dampened, though, by the prospect of Gov. Mark Dayton vetoing a school funding bill – which could send lawmakers back to St. Paul for a special session this summer.

Here's an overview of what the 2015 Legislature did and what it left undone. Dayton now has a chance to sign or not sign a bill, allowing it to become law. Or he can veto it within three days. Keep track of what action he's taken by clicking here. The House and Senate can override a governor's veto, but only while in session.

Universal pre-K, education funding

Over the weekend Dayton promised he will veto a bill that increases preschool through 12th grade education funding by $400 million, because he says it will take a $550 million increase to make tuition-free pre-kindergarten classes available statewide. (Dayton identified universal preschool as a priority of his early in the session.)

Despite the threat, legislators Monday passed a school funding package with the $400 million increase, setting the stage for a veto and special session.

Tax breaks: Unfinished

Republicans in the House wanted $2 billion in tax breaks, citing the state's $1.9 billion projected budget surplus. The Senate DFLers and Dayton wanted some modest tax cuts, but proposed using that surplus for the rainy day fund and other initiatives. An agreement couldn't be reached in time, and lawmakers essentially hit the pause button.

 Road and bridge fixes: Unfinished

For months, members of both parties decried the state of Minnesota's roads and bridges, saying serious investments needed to be made to fix them. But the sides couldn't agree how. Democrats wanted, in part, a hike on the wholesale gas tax; Republicans preferred to reassign money from the surplus and other areas and use it for the roads.

What happened? Both the House and Senate passed a "keep the lights on" bill Monday, that basically keeps things running as they have been until next year.

With the parties deadlocked over those priorities, legislative leaders signaled last week transportation and taxes might be left for next year. WCCO reports the budget passed by the House and Senate leaves $1 billion unspent, with leaders seeing that money as a starting point for next year's talks about transportation and tax cuts.

Leaving that money on the table, though, has further frustrated Dayton and other backers of increased spending on preschool.

Tuition freezes for U of M, MnSCU

Some students at the University of Minnesota and MnSCU colleges will get tuition relief. About $22 million will go to the U of M for tuition relief; U of M President Eric Kaler has said multiple times he's asked for a tuition increase if the school didn't get $65.2 million to freeze tuition, the Session Daily says.

There's also almost $100 million to cover a tuition freeze for two-year MnSCU college students, and some future four-year state university students. MnSCU officials asked for $148 million.

The final bill was a meeting point between Republican and Democrat lawmakers, who at one point were $148 million apart.

Water buffer zones

Dayton did forge a compromise agreement with lawmakers on another of his priorities for the session: buffer zones separating farmland from waterways.

Dayton was unhappy with a version of the bill that would not have taken effect until 2020 or later. The measure was revised, though, and under the compromise agreement, compliance will be enforced beginning in 2017 on public waterways and 2018 along drainage ditches. It passed the House Monday – and got by with one vote to spare in the Senate, the Pioneer Press reports.

Other environmental provisions

A coalition called the Minnesota Environmental Partnership is urging Dayton to veto the bill because of several other provisions it objects to, including a move that would eliminate the citizen's board that oversees the state Pollution Control Agency.

MinnesotaCare, MNsure, nursing homes

  • MinnesotaCare – the program that provides state-subsidized health insurance to low-income Minnesotans will continue. But the 90,000 residents who use it will pay a larger share of the costs, the Pioneer Press reports.
  • Nursing homes – rural nursing homes will receive more from the state under a revised formula aimed at making up for years of underfunding, The Associated Press says.
  • MNsure – While lawmakers discussed major changes to the state's health insurance exchange, MPR News reports it came out of the session looking very much like it did at the start. A task force will look at future options for both MNsure and MinnesotaCare.

Gun suppressors

Despite a veto threat from Dayton, the House and (to many people's surprise) Senate passed a handful of gun measures, including legalizing suppressors and a measure that would no longer require gun owners to notify officials before entering the Capitol armed.

Transgender restroom policy

House legislators last month included language in the E-12 omnibus education bill that would have required students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their sex – “determined by a person’s chromosomes and is identified at birth by a person’s anatomy” – not the gender they identify with. That measure did not make it into the final bill, with The Column reporting it was taken out Sunday.

License plate data: Approved – Police body camera data: Unfinished

What can authorities do with license plate data recorded by automatic readers? Under the bill, a compromise approved by the House and Senate, it could be stored for a maximum of 60 days (unless part of an ongoing investigation beyond that time), Minnpost reports. No agreement was reached on who should have access to video data collected from police body cameras.

Felon voting rights

MinnPost reports a measure to restore the voting rights of ex-felons while they are on probation or parole failed and was not part of the bill legislators approved.

Flame retardant chemical ban

The Minnesota House passed a bill that bans the use of four different fire retardant chemicals used in furniture and clothing, which the Senate quickly passed as well. It's actually a scaled-down version of an earlier bill that banned 10 chemicals.

The reason for the move? Concerns about cancer risks associated with the chemicals.

Sunday liquor sales

Once again, no traction on Sunday liquor sales, which only got a whiff of a real House floor vote this session before being shot down. But there are Sunday growler sales now.

Electronic lottery sales: Passed, not signed

Lawmakers in the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to end most forms of electronic lottery games, such as those at gas pumps and ATMs. Dayton will not sign it – but he won't veto it either, meaning it's set to become law.

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