The following information was shared with the library community via the MLA and ITEM Legislative Update Newsletter Monday, February 4, 2019 by Sam Walseth, Capitol Hill Associates, in his role as the MLA-ITEM lobbyist.
The first month of the 2019 session is behind us. As expected, it’s been a slow (and cold) start to the new legislative cycle. The Walz-Flanagan transition is mostly settled- however, second tier agency posts (assistant and deputy commissioners) are still coming together. The new House DFL majority is starting to hum now that staff are settled into their new positions. The House and Senate committees have mostly been conducting overview hearings. A few marquee DFL-backed policy bills are set for their initial hearings this coming week in the House, including legislation on paid sick leave and wage theft prohibitions are on the docket.
The Senate is taking a slower approach as the GOP majority knows the DFL House and Governor Walz will ramp up an ambitious agenda this month and through session. The Senate also has a special session to fill the seat vacated by Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) who took the reins as Commissioner of the Department of Human Services earlier in January. His son, Stu Lourey, is running to replace him in the special election set for Tuesday, February 5th. Rep. Jason Rarick (GOP-Pine City) is a formidable challenger for the Senate District 11 special election and the race is expected to be close. Senate District 11 spans Carleton and Pine Counties. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is hoping to flip this seat and give his caucus a two seat majority, which would provide significant breathing room as they brace for the DFL’s agenda to land in their chamber.
Walz-Flanagan Budget Plan
One thing certain about the Walz-Flanagan operation; it’s a tight-lipped, no leak, operation. Walz’s time in D.C. and his core staff are exhibiting better habits around the ‘cone of silence’ than we’re used to in Minnesota level politics. The new Governor’s budget is due on February 19 and it’s unclear how he’s going to put forward the progressive agenda he campaigned on.
The state’s budget picture isn’t helping him either. The state’s fiscal consultant, IHS, has already signaled a lowering of future GDP figures that we’ll see in the February forecast. The $1.5 billion surplus for the next biennium (FY 20-21) may hold, but the tails projections (FY 22-23) that showed a mere $456 million surplus are expected to vanish at the end of the month when the updated forecast is released. There’s already speculation that the DFL will seek general fund revenue increases to pay for their hoped for education plans.
Your lobbying team has been active in working our top funding priorities into position for the general fund budget debate ahead. Rep. Mary Murphy will champion our proposal to increase funding to the 12 regional public library systems. MLA is asking for a $4 million annual increase to Regional Library Basic System Support (RLBSS) and a formula distribution change that has been approved by the 12 regional library boards. We’re seeking the chief authorship support from another senator.
An emerging library advocate in the legislature is Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL New Brighton). Rep. Kunesh-Podein is a licensed school media specialist. She’s introduced HF 247 which would create an grant pool that schools could apply for to incentive them to hire more licensed school media specialists. We’ve also begun exploring authors for our Legacy and Capital Investment requests. Actual bill numbers for these various proposals are still weeks away as there is a significant amount of time to attain the appropriate permissions for drafting and ‘jacketing’ bills, getting them signed and then formally introduced.
The legislative committee process will heat up in March with the first policy deadline set for March 15. The more significant committee deadlines for MLA-ITEM’s legislative proposals are March 29 and April 12. The legislature will be gone on a Passover/Easter break from April 13 – 22. Session must end on May 20.