Minnesota Legislature will return from Easter break with plenty of bills still in the pipeline

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Legislature will return from its Easter break on Tuesday with plenty of bills in the pipeline. They include a myriad of low-profile proposals but several high-profile pieces of legislation are in the mix, ranging from sports betting and cannabis and sports betting, to rights for trans people, to maintaining the state’s roads and bridges.The House and Senate convened Feb. 12 with a much less ambitious agenda than what they passed during a frenetic 2023 session, when Democrats took full control of the Legislature for the first time in eight years. Now, with only a little extra money to work with, much of the focus has been on policy proposals that don’t cost much.MINNESOTA WOMAN ACCUSED OF ‘ILLEGAL BUYING SPREE’ THAT ARMED KILLER OF 3 FIRST RESPONDERSWith less than two months to go before the adjournment deadline of May 20, here’s a look at the state of play:BUDGETThe $72 billion two-year budget was largely set last year. While the surplus has inched up to $3.7 billion, Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic legislative leaders have agreed to spend only about $541 million more and bank the rest. The new spending includes $16 million for struggling emergency medical services in rural Minnesota, though some lawmakers say that’s not nearly enough. One problem got solved early when Walz signed a fix to an error last year that could have cost taxpayers around $350 million next year.BONDINGThe main task this session is a public infrastructure borrowing package known as a bonding bill. Walz proposed a combination of $982 million in borrowing and cash. The final package is expected to keep an unglamorous focus on maintaining existing infrastructure, like roads, bridges and water treatment facilities. Bonding bills require 60% supermajorities, so it will need some Republican votes.SPORTS BETTINGProponents are trying bring it across the goal line. But the politics are a tricky needle to thread. The proposal in the works would put in-house and online wagering via apps under control of tribal casinos. But Minnesota’s two horse tracks want in on the action. Backers reached a deal to share revenue with charities that depend on gambling revenues that were slashed by restrictions enacted last year on electronic pull-tab games. One version includes a ban on betting after games start to restrain problem gamblers. Nothing is likely to pass without bipartisan support.CANNABISLawmakers are making dozens of tweaks to last year’s law that legalized recreational marijuana. Many are technical. But there’s debate over giving “social equity applicants” harmed under the previous prohibition a head start on getting cannabis business licenses. Officials aren’t predicting when retail sales can begin statewide. Two tribes already have on-reservation dispensaries, and at least one more is in the works.POLICINGLawmakers resolved a contentious issue early in the session when they voted to give school resource officers clearer authority. Restrictions enacted last year led around 40 police departments to pull officers from schools. The bipartisan compromise that passed with support from law enforcement ensures that officers can use prone restraints on students, while requiring better training and standards.VOTINGFloor votes could come soon on the Minnesota Voting Rights Act. It’s a move by Democrats to fill voids left by the courts in the landmark 1965 federal Voting Rights Act. A decision by a federal appeals court last year took away the right of individuals in seven states, including Minnesota, to sue under the federal law to challenge voting practices or procedures they believe discriminate on the basis of race.RELIGIONReligious organizations weren’t exempted from protections for gender identity that were added to the state human rights law last year. In the name of religious freedom, Republicans have tried three times this year to carve out an exception. They say it’s needed to protect the rights of religious organizations and schools to govern themselves and to make clergy and personnel decisions in line with their teachings. Democrats have blocked the GOP push so far, with some calling it an attack on the trans and nonbinary communities.CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPMINNESOTA ERASupporters are still trying to round up support for enshrining protections for abortion and trans rights into the state Constitution. A state-level Equal Rights Amendment against sex discrimination passed the Senate last year but time ran out in the House over language on abortion and gender-affirming care. Supporters have yet to introduce updated language. If it goes forward, the amendment would go on the 2026 ballot.ASSISTED SUICIDEA proposal to allow physician-assisted suicide for patients with less than six months to live has had several hearings in the House, but it’s still not expected to become law this year. While House leaders have said they’re seeing a lot of public interest in the issue, they’ve also said there aren’t enough votes, especially in the Senate, where Democrats hold just a one-vote majority and at least one Democratic senator is opposed.
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