Lawmakers are poised to grant next year's Minnesota candidates permission to raise and spend more campaign cash, to allow them to compete with massive spending from outside groups.
The new limits awaiting House and Senate floor votes but approved by a joint legislative committee, double the amount an individual can give to candidates for most campaigns and dramatically increases the amount of money candidates could spend.
Candidates for governor, for instance, will be able to spend $5 million during an election cycle whereas previously they could spend just $2.7 million, if they agreed to spending limit. Legislative candidates would also see the amount they are permitted to spend double.
Unlike some versions of the measure, the final agreement does not put in place new regulations over so called "electioneering communications," which are messages that outside groups send out near an election to praise or criticize a candidate but don't specifically include an entreaty to vote for or against that candidate.
The measure also creates a new exception to the ban on lawmakers receiving gifts. Now, if a group invites the entire Legislature to an event, lawmakers can eat and drink on that group's dime without worrying they are receiving a prohibited gift.
Minnesota House leaders say that the House will start debate on the contentious unionization bill before 7 a.m. Sunday.
The measure, passed by the Minnesota Senate after a record-setting 17 hour debate, brought hordes of supporters and opponents to the Capitol on Saturday, urging lawmakers to vote their way.
House Speaker Paul Thissen said Saturday afternoon that the House will begin debating the bill, which would allow in-home child care workers and personal care assistants to vote on whether to unionize, "in this legislative day."
A legislative day ends at 7 a.m.
"And I anticipate that that probably...that it won't end this legislative day," Thissen said.
Already lawmakers have filed nearly 120 proposed amendments to the measure and included some amendments to the amendments, which signals that the House debate will be lengthy.
If the House passes the measure without changes, it would be delivered to the governor for his signature. Gov. Mark Dayton supports the unionization measure.
In an abrupt turnaround, Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Friday that leaders may be able to agree yet on a minimum wage hike.
"There's some middle ground between where the Senate is and the House is," Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. He had said on TPT's Almanac program that there was a "very good chance" they could find that compromise.
On Thursday, Bakk said it was unlikely the House and Senate could bridge their differences on the minimum wage.
The House wants to raise it from $6.15 an hour, which is below the federal minimum, to $9.50 an hour. The Senate wants to raise it to $7.75 an hour and Bakk has said the Senate lacks the votes to raise it much beyond that.
On Friday evening, House Speaker Paul Thissen said the House may be able to move toward the middle.
"There probably is room to move on that on our end, too," he said.
But, he sounded less confident than Bakk that the move would come before Monday, the day this year's legislative session is to end.
"I couldn't tell you whether we are going to reach agreement on minimum wage or not," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
The DFL has been under pressure from minimum wage supporters, including the unions which are key DFL backers, to significantly hike the wage. Those pressures only increased when Bakk and Thissen emerged from a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday and said that a hike may not be possible this year.
Supporters and opponents of a unionization bill are gearing up for an expected Saturday vote in the Minnesota House.
The pressure is on House members as they look at approval of the measure that is a top priority for powerful unions and an abomination to many conservatives.
The debate over the measure took 17 hours to pass the Senate earlier this week, as Republicans inveighed against it and Democrats tried to defend it.
Already House Republicans have signaled their intention to make the debate last until the idea gets a full airing. They've filed nearly 100 potential amendments to the measure.
Despite what is expected to be a tough slog, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said late Friday night that he was "pretty confident" that the measure would eventually be signed into law this year.
Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, concurred.
"I sure hope we didn't vote on it for nothing," he said.
If it became law, about 21,000 child care and home health care workers could unionize with AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or SEIU, the Service Employees International Union.
In recent days, Republican state representatives, and their allies, have encouraged opponents to come to the Capitol on Saturday to make their voices heard.
"If this impacts you, I encourage you to come to the Capitol on Saturday when the House debates this unprecedented attempt to unionize small business owners in our state," Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, said in an email to constituents. Other GOP members sent similar emails.
Backers are also getting their voices out. They've conduced a session-long lobbying effort and on Friday, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which spent millions to elect a Democratic Legislature last year, sent out an email to gin up mroe support.
"The ultra-conservative Koch brothers and Freedom Foundation are ginning up emails and calls from out-of-state to scare you into believing their false talking points. The calls and emails against the bill are coming from places like Kansas and Connecticut, not Minnesota," the Alliance said in an email. The Alliance got large contributions from union groups and from Alida Messinger, a Rockefeller heir and Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife.
Ardent opponent of the unionization measure Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said the accusation that resistance comes from out of state rings false.
"I am extremely disappointed with Alliance for A Better Minnesota lying to their members. Childcare providers, all over the state have been fighting this issue for over seven years. Their effort is grassroots in the truest sense and they are they are looking forward 'no' votes tomorrow," Franson said.
Chris Van Guilder, spokesman for the Minnesota chapter Americans for Prosperity, the group has sent out action alerts about the unionization bill to thousands of Minnesotans and have encouraged Minnesotans to oppose the measure. Nationally, Americans for Prosperity is supported by the Koch brothers.