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As shutdown looms, Capitol action drags

By Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio News

After preventing majority Democrats from voting on a commerce and energy budget bill in the Minnesota House Thursday, Republicans were at it again Friday. This time it was the agriculture budget bill they wanted to send to a committee for more work.

Republicans took turns talking about both the bill and lots of other topics. First-term Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Elmore recounted his experiences as a farmer and as a teacher. And he talked quite a bit about the Civil War.

“McClellan believed that instead of being up against 10,000 confederates, he was up against over 300,000,” Olson said. “That’s how well he was deceived, members, and we have been deceived even worse.”

House Republicans were left out of the private negotiations on budget bills among the governor’s office and House and Senate leaders. In addition to protesting that exclusion, they’re trying to win some concessions.

In the commerce bill they want renewed funding for reinsurance, the program enacted a few years ago to stabilize health insurance premiums in the individual market. They also want Gov. Tim Walz to give up his emergency powers.

Republicans argue that they are not obstructing because all of the big budget bills are still not finished, but the Legislature has been in special session almost a full work week, and so far not a single bill has passed.

It is within the power of the DFL majority to stop debate and call for a vote, but that’s considered a nuclear option that would likely cause even more ill will. So, for now Democrats are willing to let Republicans talk.

“The minority has an opportunity to debate, to offer amendments, to slow things down as much as possible,” Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL- Golden Valley, said Thursday. “But I want to be very clear to everyone here, and to the people of Minnesota, that the minority’s actions on this floor will not stop us from passing a bill by July 1.”

Without a series of budget bills passed and signed by the governor by the end of June, parts or all of state government will shut down on July 1.

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said his plan was to take time to do the thorough work that Minnesotans deserve and the constitution allows. The bills awaiting votes are agriculture, commerce and energy, higher education and legacy funding. Other larger bills are still being negotiated by small groups of lawmakers behind the scenes.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, debate began on a jobs program bill Friday, but after Democrats successfully offered an amendment on refinery safety, majority Republicans put off a final vote until Monday. The Senate has already debated the other completed budget bills but can’t pass them before the House acts.

Layoff warnings in advance of a possible shutdown have already gone out to state employees. And nonprofits and others who rely on money from state government are preparing for the worst-case scenario.

The threat of a shutdown is somewhat unusual, given that the state has a substantial budget surplus and most of the remaining disagreements are not because of a lack of funding.