The Minnesota Legislature will reconvene to begin the second half of its 92nd biennial session on Jan. 31. The session is expected to be short and focused on making tweaks to the biennial budget. Many stakeholders, including the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), are hoping the session will also yield a robust omnibus capital investment bill.
Recap of 2021 session
The 92nd biennial session of the Legislature began Jan. 5, 2021, with the swearing in of all 134 House members and 67 senators. These numbers included 23 new representatives and 10 new senators. Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) and other constitutional officers were not on the ballot in 2020 but will be in 2022.
The 2021 session, which marked the first year of the state’s fiscal biennium, got underway during an unprecedented time in Minnesota and the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, continued to claim and disrupt lives. The most defining aspect of the 2021 session was that it was conducted without in-person participation by the public. On March 13, 2020, Gov. Walz issued Executive Order 20-01 declaring a peacetime emergency. This allowed his administration to impose measures aimed at mitigating the COVID-19 health threat, including shuttering certain businesses, closing schools, limiting social gatherings, and requiring Minnesotans who are not essential employees to stay home.
The executive order, parts of which remained in place until July 1, 2021, also meant the Capitol complex was closed to the public. (The Capitol building reopened on June 10, 2021.) With few exceptions, hearings and floor sessions were conducted virtually or with a limited number of legislators and staff present in person. This format presented challenges for lobbyists and others wishing to influence legislative outcomes.
The peacetime emergency was also a major point of contention between DFLers and Republicans, prompting frequent and lengthy floor debates over unsuccessful motions to end the governor’s order. In the end, after a June special session that spilled into July, the Legislature set the state’s budget for the next two years under difficult and evolving circumstances. It did not yield an omnibus capital investment (bonding) bill, which is not atypical of odd-year sessions.
Expect continued pandemic disruption
Although the governor’s executive order ended in July 2021, variants of COVID-19 have continued to emerge, and infection rates in Minnesota are high compared to other states. With these factors in mind, House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced in October 2021 that the House plans to continue to hold most meetings virtually in 2022. Meanwhile, the Senate has been holding hybrid (in-person and online) meetings.
The different approaches being taken by leaders of each legislative body will further complicate advocacy strategies. Stakeholders and members of the public who want to influence legislation will need to understand how best to communicate with individual legislators and where to go to testify in committees.
Sunny budget forecast
The November 2021 state budget forecast was released Dec. 7 and revealed a historic state budget surplus. According to Minnesota Management and Budget, the state will end the current 2022-2023 biennium with a positive budgetary balance of $7.75 billion, a further improvement over the $127.3 million projection at the end of the 2021 first special session.
The state is also expecting an estimated $6.8 billion in federal infrastructure funds over the next five years. This comes out of the roughly $1 trillion bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021.
A significant portion of the federal funding is for roads and bridges. Minnesota is set to receive $4.5 billion for federal-aid highway programs and $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs over a five-year period.
While this funding is being hailed as urgent and helpful, it may complicate negotiations around a state bonding package. Some legislators may scoff at the idea of borrowing if infrastructure investments are already funded with federal money.
Redistricting and a big election year
Another factor that will influence the 2022 session is the fact that all House and Senate seats will be on the ballot in November 2022. All constitutional offices will also be on the ballot.
Elections may be complicated by the redistricting that will also occur this year. Every 10 years following the census, legislative and congressional district boundaries are redrawn to be as nearly equal in population as practicable to ensure equal representation.
In late 2021, legislative caucuses unveiled proposed competing maps for Minnesota’s new legislative and congressional district boundaries. The Legislature must approve a redistricting plan by Feb. 15, 2022, so that next year’s election cycle can proceed on schedule. If legislators fail to reach an agreement by Feb. 15, state courts would create the new boundaries for each district.
Constitutionally, the session must end no later than the first Monday after the third Saturday in May of the even-numbered year. In 2022, that date is May 16. However, it’s not unusual for stalled negotiations to lead to special sessions.
What’s on the agenda for cities?
In preparation for the upcoming legislative session, the LMC Board of Directors formally approved the 2022 City Policies — a document addressing more than 200 legislative issues that impact cities ranging from unfunded mandates, to economic development tools, to state-local fiscal relations. The policies represent the work of city officials who participated in the League’s four policy committees in 2021. (Access the policies at www.lmc.org/policies.)
From that document, the LMC Board selected five issue areas as League legislative priorities. The priorities were determined through discussions that occurred during the policy committee process and through other member interactions and communications over the last several months. While the issues addressed in the priority list do not reflect the entire scope of anticipated League activities during the 2022 legislative session, it provides a starting point for important issues to watch as the session gets underway. The following is a brief summary of each of the five priorities.
The League will advocate for a substantial bonding bill that includes appropriations for municipal water and wastewater infrastructure, local roads and bridges, funding for the local road wetland replacement fund, flood hazard mitigation, and dam repair and removal projects.
Cities across Minnesota are working to address locally identified housing needs and provide quality housing options in their communities. The League supports preserving existing city decision-making authority to allow communities to support their unique housing goals. The League is in favor of the state providing resources to aid cities in meeting demand for affordable housing that is sensitive to local conditions. Employers in many Minnesota cities want to expand; however, available housing does not always accommodate workforce growth. A lack of rental, single-family, and other housing options for new and current residents can hinder economic development and job growth. The League will continue to advocate for additional local tools and programs that support workforce and affordable housing, including resources in a bonding bill.
The League will continue to actively oppose legislation that erodes the fundamental principle of local control in cities across Minnesota. The League will also work to reinforce its core value that local elected officials are not only authorized to make public policy decisions related to health, safety, and welfare within their communities, but are in the best position to do so.
Local government aid and other aids to cities
For the 2022 distribution, the local government aid (LGA) program appropriation was frozen at the 2021 level of $564.4 million; however, the Legislature established a one-time $5.5 million supplemental aid that prevented 96 cities from experiencing a reduction in total aid in 2022. The Small Cities Assistance Account received a one-time appropriation of $18 million in 2021 but has not been permanently funded. Despite ongoing legislative discussions to extend the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) aid to employers, the program was sunset after payments made in 2019. The League calls for future annual LGA appropriation increases to at least account for inflationary pressures. The League also supports permanent funding for the Small Cities Assistance Account, and the immediate restoration of the PERA employer aid.
Public safety duty disability/ workers’ compensation
The League and the communities it serves recognize the inherent dangers faced by peace officers and firefighters in the line of duty. The duties performed by public safety employees sometimes lead to physical and mental injuries. In recent years, the number of public safety employees seeking duty disability determinations through PERA and making workers’ compensation claims for line-of-duty injuries has accelerated. This is particularly true in the wake of a 2019 legislative change that made post-traumatic stress disorder a presumptive condition for workers’ compensation purposes. The League will advance legislative initiatives aimed at injury prevention and treatment and will seek state funding for certain disability benefits currently funded by employers. The League will oppose efforts to expand conditions presumed to be work-related for workers’ compensation purposes.
If you have questions about the session or League priorities, contact a member of the LMC intergovernmental relations team. Find staff names and contact information at www.lmc.org/igr-staff.