Walz orders Friday special session: Can lawmakers read the bills?

With the ink still drying on thousands of pages of budget bills, Gov. Tim Walz is ordering Minnesota lawmakers back to the state Capitol on Friday to approve them.

“I am proud that we came together across party lines to build a budget that will improve the lives of Minnesotans. Now it’s our responsibility to take that budget across the finish line,” Walz said in a statement announcing the special session, which is scheduled to start at 10 a.m.

Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka plan to speed the bills through by 7 a.m. Saturday. But they did not get a formal agreement from either the House or Senate minority leaders, who do not have to agree to a single-day special session.

Walz made his call over the objections of the state Senate’s top Democrat, who said he urged Walz not to force lawmakers to vote on bills before reading them.

“Take a breath and let’s all read the bills and let’s see what’s wrong with them, because there will be things wrong,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “I think people’s constituents would be pretty surprised that you voted on a 1,000 page bill and you have no idea what’s in it.”

In the haste to finish, the budget bills quickly got closed up Thursday.  Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle complained loudly about the process, which became necessary after they were unable to complete their work by Monday’s adjournment of the regular session.

While the governor gets to call the special session, his power over the proceedings end there. Only lawmakers can decide how long to stay.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans, who control their respective chambers, have expressed hope for a quick one-day special session that adjourns before the Memorial Day weekend. But they need approval from minority caucuses in each chamber to suspend the rules, which require at least a three-day special session.

There was no agreement to suspend the rules as of Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt said.

Insulin program fails

In the rush to prepare the bills on time, a provision creating an emergency insulin program was among the casualties. Versions of the measure, which would’ve allowed diabetics to get access to insulin even if they couldn’t pay for it, was included in both the House and Senate budgets, but was left out of the final deal.

Senate Republicans expressed little interest in getting the insulin program back in the state’s health and human services budget bill Thursday afternoon.

When confronted at the Capitol by Kim Munson of Lakeville, whose daughter has Type 1 diabetes, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the legislation was “locked up.”

“Eventually you have to say, everyone, we have to wrap up because we’re trying to finish all the bills everywhere by Friday,” Gazelka said as Munson recorded his comments with her phone. “There’s always stuff that somebody wants that we need to get done but has to wait.”

The health and human services bill, like seven other budget-related measures, were negotiated in private between Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Gazelka, with input from two conference committee chairs. Many deals were struck during late-night sessions with politicians running on little sleep.

The fate of the insulin program only came to light Thursday morning when the two chairwoman, Democratic state Rep. Tina Liebling and Republican state Sen. Michelle Benson, began arguing on Twitter.

“After show of concern for (people) who need insulin to live, Sen. Benson kills #Insulin4All in final hours of negotiation,” Liebling tweeted Thursday morning.

Benson fired back: “You gave us a spreadsheet without (the) insulin program on it. I didn't notice, even in the several back and forth offers. We all closed the spreadsheet.”

If it was a clerical error, state Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, said lawmakers ought to be able to fix it quickly.

“This was a real shock,” Little said in an interview. “We thought this was done. It just has such broad bipartisan support. This is one of those no-brainers at the Capitol. It should be in there. Let’s get it back in.”

No Historical Society cuts

Among the other budget deals announced Thursday:

  • The Minnesota Historical Society will not see its funding cut over its installation of “Fort Snelling at Bdote” signage at Fort Snelling State Park. Senate Republicans had chopped $4 million a year out of the agency’s budget in retaliation for the signage, which they called “revisionist history.” Democrats successfully fought the cuts.
  • Voters will not be able to keep their party preference private when voting in Minnesota’s 2020 presidential primary. While lawmakers restricted the general public from accessing lists of who chose each party, the political parties themselves will get access to all of the lists.
  • Minnesota’s daylight saving time will stay “status quo” after an effort to get rid of time changes failed, said state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. Kiffmeyer said the reaction to her initial proposal was mixed.