Minnesota takes steps toward shutdown as lawmakers vow to avoid it

Minnesota will send cancelation notices within the next week to people who made camping and wedding reservations at state parks, another step toward a July 1 government shutdown that top lawmakers vow to avoid.

The divided Legislature sent the first two minor budget bills to Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, the eighth day of the special session. Twelve more bills remain, and the most contentious ones -- including police oversight changes -- are not finalized. 

Gov. Tim Walz said his administration's shutdown planning would ramp up this week. Letters will go out to people who rely on various state services, while contractors will start winding down road projects later this week, Walz said.

"It’s frustrating for me," Walz said, speaking with reporters at the state Capitol for the first time during the special session. "Everybody knows we have to eventually get this done. But I can’t just tell the road contractors it’ll get done, don’t worry about it. The legality is we have to shut those contracts." 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman said she wanted lawmakers to pass the transportation budget by Thursday to avoid the construction halt. As for the rest of the budget bills, she expected an "intensive weekend" to wrap them up by the July 1 deadline.

"Getting these bills done is urgent. This is the moment in time where if they need to stay up all night to get these things done, they need to get them done so we can get them posted so we can get them passed," Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, the top Republican in state government, said a shutdown would be "really bad for Minnesota."

"I refuse to let it get to that place. I believe the governor and the speaker are in the same place," said Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.

Top lawmakers expressed confidence that several breakthrough deals were emerging. Gazelka said the budget bills for K-12 education, health and human services, and state government were close.

Hortman said lawmakers had agreed to a deal enhancing security at drop boxes for absentee ballots. Republicans have been seeking voter restrictions, including a photo ID requirement.

Hortman and Gazelka said the Legislature would likely vote to end Walz's COVID-19 emergency powers before the end of the special session. Hortman said an end date could be set in the future. The only major pandemic-era restriction that remains is an eviction ban, which would wind down if a deal on the housing budget bill passes.

But lawmakers have cut so close to the July 1 deadline that they can little afford further delays.

House Republicans, frustrated over the House DFL and Senate GOP cutting them out of negotiations, filibustered for 30 hours before allowing three bills through over the weekend. The House GOP spent several hours Monday debating the commerce bill, though a vote was expected later in the evening.

Monday's contentious debate saw House GOP Leader Kurt Daudt repeatedly shouting "Madam Speaker, point of order!" as the parties fought over House rules. Hortman, who was not in the House chamber, said she had muted the TV in her office during the debate.

"We gave them full and fair opportunity to make fools of themselves," Hortman said of the GOP filibuster.