Democrats took the majority in the Minnesota House this year promising transparency and a shift away from the 990-page mega-bill that was held up last year as a poster child of government dysfunction.
However, House Democrats have started tucking some of the most controversial policy measures this session into big budget bills — in hopes of making them part of the mix for end-of-session negotiations with Senate Republicans. Last year, former Gov. Mark Dayton called out the then-Republican controlled Legislature for similarly adding policy items to a budget package.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, reiterated Friday that she doesn't want a repeat of the massive budget bill Dayton vetoed in 2018. Nonetheless, Hortman said the policy maneuvering is a legislative norm.
"While we're changing some things that were dysfunctional from before — like an omnibus prime that has environment and transportation and health and human services — we're not changing everything about the way the Legislature works," she said.
A House committee approved two additions to a major public safety budget bill Thursday night. One would expand background checks for firearm transfers and purchases; the other would give court officials the ability to order the removal of people's guns if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has said he would only have hearings on the measures if they move forward independently in the House, not as part of a budget bill.
"Why are you afraid of a clean vote? The Senate wants to see the true support for these proposals in the House," Gazelka, R-Nisswa, wrote in a tweet.
The gun regulations are important to Minnesotans, Hortman said, and the House leadership is pushing hard to make them happen.
"We have a trust with the voters to carry their desires forward as aggressively as we can until the last minute of the session," she said.
Another priority for House Democrats is giving all Minnesotans, regardless of immigration status, the ability to get driver's licenses. The House passed that proposal Friday as a stand-alone measure, not tied to any broader bill. But with no movement on the highly divisive issue in the Senate, they opted to also add it to their big transportation budget package.
When House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, was asked whether he would jeopardize budget negotiations to pass the bill, he said, "We are not going to issue any ultimatums on any issue going into the end of this session. Period."
Unlike last session's dynamic with Dayton's veto, these policy provisions would likely find support from Democratic Gov. Tim Walz — but he's not a huge fan of the House approach. In an interview Friday on Minnesota Public Radio, Walz said he generally opposes combining policy and budget bills but said he's a realist about what needs to happen to move the bills forward.
Jessie Van Berkel 651-925-5044 Twitter: @jessvanb firstname.lastname@example.org