Special Session VII?
As COVID-19 continues to be the focus everywhere, the MN political landscape is no exception.
The Governor must renew his peacetime emergency powers every thirty days and the Legislature must be in session for the Governor to do so, although the action does not require legislative approval. As a result, the Governor has called the Legislature back six times over the interim to extend his peacetime emergency powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Governor is expected to call the legislature back in the middle of December to again extend his peacetime emergency powers and possibly take up a relief package for businesses and organizations negatively impacted by the recent 4-week shutdown. The Governor and the legislature have not yet reached an agreement on a relief package, however.
During the last two special sessions, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to help school districts mitigate the negative impact due to reduced pupil counts during the pandemic. Neither bill advanced then and it is still unclear what might happen in a December special session.
2020 elections result in status quo (mostly)
This year a record number of absentee ballots were requested and returned – 1.9 million. The sheer number of absentee ballots, and the fact that counties were given seven additional days to accept ballots because of covid, caused some delay getting full election results, with final counts not known until after November 10.
Minnesota will continue to be the only state in the country with a divided government as both the Senate Republicans and House DFL held onto their majority control despite shifts in the number of seats. Senate Republicans now have a 34-31-2 majority. House Democrats now have a majority by 70-64. What is notable about the election results is they show a solid political divide between the Twin Cities metro area and greater Minnesota.
Minnesota received a bit of good news on the state budget outlook. The November forecast, which is the official budget forecast the Governor and the legislature will use to begin crafting a two-year state budget, was significantly better than anticipated.
Earlier projections showed a $2.4 billion deficit for the current fiscal year and a $4.7 billion revenue shortfall for the FY22-23 biennium. The forecast released on December 1 showed a $641 million surplus for this current fiscal year. While not as rosy for the next biennium, the expected $4.7 billion deficit was reduced to $1.3 billion.
Looking to the 2021 legislative session
The next legislative session begins on January 5, 2021. With COVID-19 surging, we expect the session to be held mostly virtually, which will provide a few challenges for legislators and members of the public. For one, the ability to interact will be hindered and require virtual meetings and visits. Secondly, the ability to process the large number of bills we typically see each session gets more challenging. Because of that, we would expect to see more focus on solving the budget deficit than hearing an untold number of bills.
2021 is the first year of the two-year biennial cycle and the year where the Governor and the state legislature must pass a two-year state operating budget. Not surprisingly, we will likely see different approaches to addressing the state budget between the DFL-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. Expect to hear the ongoing debate regarding tax increases versus budget reductions that is common between DFLers and Republicans and discussions about using the budget reserve and shifts to address the deficit next biennium.
Education Committees – House and Senate
Because we are beginning a new two-year cycle, the House and Senate establishes new committees, appoint chairs, and make committee member assignments.
For the 2021-2022 legislative cycle, the committee structure remains the same, but some changes were made with committee chairs.
In the Senate, Sen. Roger Chamberlain was appointed chair of the Education Finance and Policy Committee. In the House, Rep. Dave Pinto will continue as chair of the Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee, Rep. Jim Davnie stays on as the chair of the Education Finance Committee, and Rep. Ruth Richardson, is the newly appointed chair of the Education Policy Committee.