Lawmakers send liquor bill, state labor contracts to Walz's desk

Minnesota lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Friday to send an overhaul of the state's liquor laws to Gov. Tim Walz along with new labor contracts for state government employees.

The passage of both bills came as other lawmakers huddled behind closed doors to wrap up the major pieces of legislation before Sunday night's deadline. The House and Senate adjourned until Saturday afternoon, setting up a 36-hour sprint to the finish.

None of the biggest bills - taxes, public schools, or public safety - are finished. That raises the likelihood that the divided Legislature will not finish its work on time and require a special session.

"We do have enough time, but everybody has to get realistic," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters. "Everybody has to cut to the chase and understand that compromise means some ideas from both sides are in the final agreement."

The K-12 education bill is among those in the worst shape. Lawmakers have $1 billion in new money to spend on public schools but have been unable to agree how to do it. Literacy programs, special education funding, and mental health resources are in the discussion. So too are other priorities of the statewide teachers' union, such as making hourly school workers eligible for unemployment benefits.

The $4 billion tax bill is much closer to an agreement. Multiple sources have said it makes a modest cut to the state's bottom income tax bracket, exempts Social Security income from state taxes, and expands the renter's credit. A final document hasn't been made public.

Lawmakers will not pass the tax bill until an agreement on K-12 education is reached.

Senate Education Chairman Roger Chamberlain told reporters he was frustrated by the delay in the education conference committee.

"This should not be a political football," said Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. "Some people say we shouldn’t spend all the money. But it’s easy. It’s right there. And we’re willing to do it."

Meanwhile, the liquor deal came together after years of disagreement. It allows the state's largest breweries to sell growlers, while smaller breweries can sell four- and six-packs in their taprooms. Distilleries can offer larger bottles in cocktail rooms.

The bill passed the Senate, 62-4, and then the House, 111-21, sending it to Walz's desk for the governor's signature.

A short time later, both chambers approved the labor contracts for more than 45,000 state government employees. The move allows previously agreed upon 2.5 percent pay raises to take effect this summer.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously before getting a 108-25 vote in the House.