Special Session Ends With Lots of Unfinished Business

June 22, 2020

A bill that would have distributed $841 million to local governments for pandemic-related expenses, along with a bonding bill and police reform measures, did not reach the governor’s desk during the eight-day special session.

Note: There is updated information on this topic. Read the latest article.

The special session that began June 12 and concluded as the sun came up on June 20 yielded no progress on the issues that were discussed in the days preceding it. One of the failed measures that received the most attention — and was of particular interest to cities — was a plan to distribute federal funds to cities, counties, and townships for pandemic-related expenses.

Despite an agreement among all four caucuses on distributing federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) money to local governments, the Legislature failed to pass the bill before adjourning the special session. As a result, cities, counties, and townships will not see additional resources for pandemic-related costs for the foreseeable future.

The bill, SF 47 (Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center) and HF 128 (Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth), was approved on a 62-4 vote by the Senate on June 16 and sent to the House. Under this bill, the Department of Revenue (DOR) would distribute $841 million of the state’s allocation from the CRF to cities, counties, and townships. The fund was created as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

House amends bill

During the hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill was amended to include a number of supplemental budget items, including an additional $30 million allocation of federal funds to local units of government that would be used to assist cities, counties, and townships that experience pandemic-related costs in excess of the allocation under the base bill.

The base CARES/CRF amount and distribution provisions were unchanged in the Ways and Means amendment from the Senate bill. However, the addition of several supplemental appropriations was criticized by Senate and House Republicans as violating the legislative agreement on the distribution of the funds.

Senate takes no action on amended bill

The House ultimately passed the bill as amended on June 19 by a vote of 77-55, largely along party lines. However, in response to the House amendment to the bill, the Senate did not take up the bill when it was returned to the Senate, nor did it request a conference committee to resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

The Senate and House both adjourned the special session sine die on June 20, ending the possibility that SF 47 would become law.

Governor could distribute the funds

Without a legislative solution, Gov. Tim Walz could still formulate a distribution of the CARES/CRF funds to local units of government by following a process defined in state law.

Under that law, the governor would present his proposal to the Legislative Advisory Commission (LAC), which is a panel comprised of the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the House Ways and Means chair, the Senate Finance chair, and the chairs of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the funding. In this case, that would likely be the House and Senate Taxes committees.

Although the governor must present his proposal to the LAC, the commission’s powers are advisory only and, therefore, the proposal could be implemented even if the LAC objected to the proposal.

Second special session possible

Beyond the LAC process, the Legislature could pursue a subsequent bill in a second special session. Although generally only the governor has the power to call a special session of the Legislature, he may be required to call the Legislature back into special session in mid-July if he decides it is necessary to continue the pandemic peacetime emergency.

Other unfinished business

Gov. Walz has also suggested he might call the Legislature into special session before mid-July to address other unfinished business.

Several other high-profile issues with bipartisan support also failed to advance before the special session concluded. These included:

  • A capital investment — or bonding — bill.
  • Reforms to laws governing police conduct, procedures and training, including changes to the arbitration process.
  • The provision of $100 million in CARES Act funding for emergency rental assistance for those experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.
  • The provision of $27 million for distance learning and telemedicine that included $10 million in additional funding for the state’s broadband grant program.

For more background information, read previous articles about the CRF distribution bill and the police reform measures.