The 2016 session begins this week on Tuesday, March 8th, and there is a lot of buzz surrounding the various objectives of each legislative house and party. On even-numbered years in Minnesota lawmakers piece together a bonding bill. Bonding bills are designed to maintain and fund capital investments including state-owned buildings, land, and projects. There are several projects being proposed for this year’s bonding bill including $21 million for a “greener” Duluth steam plant, $3 million for Silver Bay city-owned ventures to attract tourists, and $52 million to add bike lanes and light rail options to a St. Paul bridge.
A copy of Governor Dayton’s initial bonding recommendations can be seen here, while the 774-paged local government bonding requests can be seen here. The sticker price on the bonding bill has yet to be determined, but it appears Republicans may be open to one billion dollars, as Speaker Daudt alluded to in February, even though Democrats say they want much more.
Recent discussions and press conferences by lawmakers show that bonding may not be the only thing on the agenda for this year’s supposedly short session. Alpha News previously reported that providing tax relief is a major priority for the Republican-led House this session.
Transportation will also be a huge area of discussion as lawmakers did not pass major transportation legislation last session, but some of the negotiations have already taken place. The Mankato Free Press reports Speaker Daudt says, “We’ve scaled our plans back to what we think is really reasonable, what we think is very broadly supported by not only the public but by legislators in St. Paul from both parties.”
In January Alpha News spoke to Democratic Minority Leader Paul Thissen in the House and Republican Minority Leader David Hann in the Senate. Both leaders had very different objectives for the upcoming session. Representative Thissen told Alpha News he wants to push for campaign finance reform, legislative reform, and workforce causes, while Senator Hann felt there was no need for a session at all, given that the legislature passed a bonding bill last year as well.
Governor Dayton also has his own set of priorities. The Pioneer Press reports that Governor Dayton’s top priorities include “preschool availability in public schools and the protection of water from industrial and agricultural runoff.”
There may also be an argument over funding for the University of Minnesota. After Alpha News discovered that the University had purchased fetal tissue for research, several lawmakers are questioning if the University should receive any funding. Representative Paul Thissen believes the research being done is important, but did say that “finding out what all of the facts are is really, really important.” Senator Hann explained that lawmakers had passed a law against this type of research in the past, and says the fact that the University is doing this research is “very troubling” to him. Representative Bob Barrett says he has plans to address this issue in the upcoming session, saying, “There have been many, many disturbing things happening at the U of M over the past year. At the top of the list is the U of M allegedly buying aborted baby body parts.” Representative Brian Daniels told Alpha News he would be willing to talk about funding if the University provides “guaranties on not using fetal tissue for any future research.” Representatives Abigail Whelan, Joe McDonald, and Cindy Pugh have also expressed concern over this issue.
The 2016 session is set to take place over the course of ten weeks, but with all of the various objectives and priorities of different top lawmakers it may likely spill over in to another special session. Subscribe to Alpha News to see our coverage of the floor sessions, committee hearings, and legislative proceedings during the 2016 session.