In a bit of irony, one of the last bills heading to the governor that would prevent a partial state government shutdown is the omnibus state government finance and policy bill.
Sponsored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), SSHF12/SSSF2* provides funding — and some increases — for some state agencies, boards and commissions. It also contains elections provisions, including a process for absentee ballot drop boxes, and policy issues related to veterans.
It was passed 70-63 by the House, as amended, early Wednesday morning and 54-12 by the Senate about an hour later. It was expected to be acted upon by Gov. Tim Walz later in the day.
When passed by the Senate June 25, the bill included an end to all of Walz’s current peacetime emergency declarations on July 1.
While the discussion was occurring, the governor announced he plans to end the peacetime emergency after reaching a deal with the federal government to protect emergency food payments.
“The peacetime emergency also made Minnesotans eligible for federal hunger-relief funding for 15 months. Our agreement with our federal partners to extend those benefits for Minnesotans, coupled with the thoughtful plan outlined in the House Democrats’ amendment to wind down the emergency response in state government, means that we can close this chapter of our history and celebrate the brighter days ahead,” Walz said in a statement.
The bill calls for nearly $1.25 billion in General Fund spending in the 2022-23 biennium, a $78.5 million increase over the current biennium.
Among its increases, the Office of the Attorney General is to receive $7.86 million: nearly $5 million for investments in critical litigation technology resources necessary in modern litigation for a public law office, $1.03 million for security upgrades, $700,000 for wage theft enforcement, $600,000 to help maintain experienced staff and $578,000 for enhanced antitrust resources.
Other changes include an $11.03 million increase for the Department of Revenue, mainly for an operating adjustment; $4.52 million for Minnesota Management and Budget; $4.38 million for MN.IT, mostly to implement recommendations from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Council on Information Technology; $4.25 million for the Office of the Secretary of State, with $2 million for local grants for ballot drop boxes and $1.5 million for election equipment grants; $2.8 million for the state auditor’s office, including almost $1.49 million to create a School Finance Accountability team; and $2.39 million more for the Administration Department. Many smaller agencies would receive slight operating adjustments.
The Market Bucks program, which matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program spending dollar-for-dollar (up to $10) at participating farmers markets, would again be funded at $650,000 for the biennium. Funding for the program that helps low-income residents to make more purchases at farmers’ markets was formerly funded in the agriculture bill.
Plenty of proposed elections changes did not make the final product such as reinstating voting rights for convicted felons upon release from incarceration; letting 16 and 17 year olds pre-register to vote; expanding voter intimidation, interference and deceptive protections; and voters could join a permanent absentee voter list for automatic delivery of an absentee ballot.
However, the bill would formalize a process for a municipality or county to use absentee ballot drop boxes, including language about locations, security, signage and monitoring of such boxes. For example, a box would need to be affixed to a building or bolted to a concrete pad, be recorded at all times, ballots would need to be secured against unauthorized access or weather damage and the drop box must be emptied daily.
Other policy provisions include:
- the legislative auditor’s office is requested to conduct a review of the state's response to COVID-19;
- a Capitol Area Building Account is established to help fund safety needs in the Capitol Complex;
- an alternative-sentencing option for veterans with service-connected trauma, substance abuse or mental health conditions who commit certain crimes would be created;
- renaming the first Saturday in October from Veterans Suicide Awareness Day to Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day to raise awareness, and promote prevention of suicides by veterans;
- Minnesota Management and Budget would need to procure a contract for the services of a pharmacy benefit manager to administer the prescription drug benefit and pharmacy benefit management services, effective Jan. 1, 2023;
- MMB could establish a virtual payments program to allow state payments to vendors through an electronic credit rather than a check;
- MMB would need to contract with a qualified auditor to conduct an annual audit of the state’s use of federal grant funds, something managed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor since 1983;
- creation of a Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity;
- someone using a charging station in the State Capitol Complex to charge a private electric vehicle would pay an electric service fee;
- recognizing Daylight Saving Time as the standard of time all year, provided federal legislation permits this change;
- eliminating a requirement that the manager of a salon school be a cosmetologist; and
- designating Aug. 15 as India Day “to commemorate and celebrate the diverse culture, heritage, traditions, and contributions of Minnesotans of Indian ancestry.”