Minnesota Legislature’s 2024 session ends in anger and acrimony

Minnesota Legislature’s 2024 session ends in anger and acrimony

The Legislature’s 2024 session ended in chaos late Sunday night, as Democrats loaded a tax bill with a panoply of proposals, turning it into a massive vessel of more than 1,400 pages with provisions involving higher education, energy, transportation and gun safety.

At 11 p.m., with an hour to go until the midnight deadline, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, suspended debate and called for a vote on the mammoth bill. GOP legislators tried to stop her, shouting “tyranny” and “communism!”

“This is a horrible way to govern,” Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, shouted. She was still fuming after the session and said she’d filed an ethics complaint against Hortman, alleging the speaker quashed legitimate motions.

Thirty minutes later with the House in recess, the same scene played out in the Senate. “My ears are still ringing,” Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said at a news conference an hour after adjournment.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, was angry, saying, “I just feel gross coming off of that Senate floor.”

For the final 30 minutes of the Senate floor session, a dozen Republicans shouted into their microphones in anger. Sen. Eric Lucero, R-St. Michael, chanted “U.S.A.”

The yelling made it impossible to hear Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, as he called for a vote on the giant bill. That bill included a provision setting minimum pay standards for Uber and Lyft drivers, an attempt to prevent the companies from leaving parts of the state. The bill survived the angry cacophony, passing with DFL support and heading to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk.

At back-to-back news conferences after the session, Demuth and Johnson angrily blamed the Democrats and their trifecta of control at the Capitol. The DFL leaders said their actions were a response to Republican filibustering in recent weeks, saying the minority prolonged debates for hours with extraneous personal stories.

“This has got to be one of the most disgusting ends to a session that I have seen in the 12 years that I have been here,” said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne. “The reality of it is, there have been a number of days that there could have been action taken, but never have I seen a mismanagement of a legislative session that I have seen this year.”

Some provisions fell by the wayside in the final hours.

The House passed a modest cash bonding bill. The Senate tried to pass the bill, but missed the midnight deadline by 30 seconds.

The House had passed an expansive equal rights ballot initiative that would ask Minnesota voters on the 2026 general election ballot if they want to enshrine equal rights and abortion protections into the state Constitution. But the Senate didn’t consider or pass the bill.

Murphy said she believed it could have passed the Senate, but they ran out of time.

The Senate, which Democrats control by a single vote, fell behind the House and played catch-up on Sunday. The Senate idled for 11 hours on Saturday as Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, was absent from the floor as he negotiated the Uber/Lyft bill. His absence meant the Senate was unable to move bills through much of the day.

Murphy and Hortman defended the negotiation, saying the bill was important to both drivers and Minnesotans who use the service.

Johnson said Democrats mismanaged the process by not doing more on Saturday. He called it “disingenuous” of the majority to criticize Republicans for wanting long debates.

“The games that have been played lately in this chamber are unbelievable,” Johnson said. “Yesterday, we sat around for 11 hours. We could have been doing a bonding bill at that time.”

Republicans were outraged Sunday morning when Senate DFL leaders, in an attempt pick up the pace, cut off debate for the first time on a bill over cannabis regulations. Johnson said partisan relations were “a lot worse” on the final day of the session.

Murphy defended the process. She said the discussion had already gone about five hours and Republicans were “adding more names to the list to continue a debate that really wasn’t about the policy.”

The cannabis bill passed and went to Walz’s desk. The Legislature also sent to the governor a bill with $24 million in one-time funding for struggling emergency medical services providers in greater Minnesota.

Throughout the evening, the House and Senate passed a series of routine, larger bills with supplemental funding for various agencies and programs. But a bill to allow cities to implement ranked-choice voting failed in the House; Democratic Reps. Rick Hansen, of South St. Paul, Michael Nelson, of Brooklyn Park, and Gene Pelowski, of Winona, joined Republicans to oppose it.

Both chambers approved and sent to Walz a ban on Historic Horse Racing (HHR), a rebuke to the state’s Racing Commission, which voted to legalize it this year. Opponents say the games are tantamount to video slot machines and violate the gambling compacts with the state’s American Indian tribes.

State Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said on social media late Sunday night that legislators were “going to come up just short on the sports betting bill this year.”

“But in the last few days we proved that we could find a deal that all the major stakeholders could live with. Tribes, tracks, charities… That’s meaningful progress that can be a foundation for the future,” Stephenson said.

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