Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton appeared to agree on school safety funding in the face of another mass shooting, but other top priorities remained unresolved with two days left in the legislative session.
Dayton and Republican leaders met privately for the second day in a row Friday afternoon but did not reach a compromise in their stalemate over taxes and school spending. Dayton on Thursday vetoed legislators' plan to cut state income taxes and adjust the state tax code based on the federal tax overhaul, as he demanded support for his $138 million plan to help public school districts facing budget problems.
The DFL governor and GOP legislators also have a long list of disagreements to work through in a wide-ranging spending and policy bill, which includes money for various government priorities as well as numerous proposed changes to state law.
By Friday, Dayton he said he opposed more than 100 items in the measure, including a provision to reduce the minimum wage for tipped workers, and another to increase penalties for protesters who take certain actions, like blocking freeways.
Lawmakers face a deadline of midnight Sunday by which all legislation must be passed. Dayton remained firm Friday on his vow that outstanding differences must be resolved by that point, and that he would not call a special legislative session to extend negotiations.
"They are running out of time, and they've got no one to blame but themselves," Dayton said.
Despite the bigger disagreements, Dayton and Republican leaders said they are committed to dedicating money to school safety. Proposals to do so were already under consideration at the State Capitol this year, but Dayton and legislators renewed their focus after a gunman killed 10 people Friday at a Houston-area high school.
"If nothing else happens this session, I want to make sure the school safety legislation gets signed into law," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
Despite another round of protests at the Capitol on Friday by advocates of stricter limits on gun purchases, it remained highly unlikely that Republicans would agree to firearm restrictions in the waning days of the session.
The House and Senate's spending plan dedicates about $28 million to various school safety initiatives. The largest chunk of money, about $20 million, would be for schools to use to improve safety as they see fit, whether that's adding counselors, school resource officers or security cameras.
House and Senate members continued to work through other pieces of the wide-ranging budget and policy bill Friday. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka remained optimistic they could address Dayton's list of concerns with the bill. He said they had already solved, or are very close to solving, 24 of his concerns.
It remained unclear whether Gazelka and Daudt would concede to Dayton's school funding request, or even part of the money, and if they would include that in the broader budget bill.
Dayton announced three weeks ago that he wanted to devote another $138 million to schools across the state, 59 of which are facing budget shortfalls. GOP legislators have said the proposal came too late and follows an increase of more than $1 billion in education spending last year. Dayton's administration has countered that much of that increase was dictated by rising school enrollments and other fixed costs.
The governor said Friday that his veto of the Republicans' tax plan was not just because he wants the school money. "It's a bad bill for its own demerits," he said, noting that it would benefit multinational corporations.
Daudt accused Dayton of pitting schools against low-income Minnesotans, who could be negatively affected if they do not finalize a tax bill. Legislators have said their plan would either provide tax cuts or prevent tax increases for 99.8 percent of Minnesotans. If they fail to pass a tax plan, many families would face tax increases and a very complicated filing process given major changes to the federal tax code approved last year by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.
While much of the decisionmaking is happening behind closed doors at this stage of the session, advocates are still showing up to push for policy changes on various issues. A small group of high school students gathered Friday on the front steps of the Capitol to make another pitch for gun control. Dayton and many legislators, primarily DFLers, have supported some gun restrictions this year against near-universal opposition by Republicans.
A different group of demonstrators showed up at the Capitol Friday demanding lawmakers improve protections for seniors and prevent abuse in elder care facilities.
Lawmakers' plans to improve elder care and prevent and treat opioid addiction have been "watered down," Dayton said. He said legislators caved to the pharmaceutical industry on the opioid measure by putting the cost burden on taxpayers, rather than drug companies.
Meanwhile, the Legislature has not yet passed a public works bonding bill to support the repair and construction of various state roads, buildings and water systems. DFLers in the Senate on Wednesday defeated the bill, which requires a supermajority to pass. They see the $825 million Republican plan as insufficient, and would like a bigger proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said Friday he still expects lawmakers will pass a bonding bill this year.
"I still think there's a high probability a bonding bill will happen," Bakk said, noting that it's an election year for the House. "If they just let the session collapse without a budget bill, without a bonding bill, without a tax bill, it would be pretty hard to go back to voters and say, 'Send me back again.' "
Lawmakers did act on other bills Friday. Sex offenders and people who are committed for a mental illness will have to meet more strict requirements to be released, under a proposal House members approved Friday.
The change, which is now headed to Dayton's desk for a signature, follows a court decision to fully discharge Kirk A. Fugelseth, who has said he molested more than 30 children. The Minnesota Court of Appeals earlier this year decided he doesn't need inpatient treatment and should be fully released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services, fearing the court ruling could open the floodgates for a number of people to be fully discharged, quickly turned to lawmakers to clarify state statue.