Standstill persists over special session, gun laws
Minnesota lawmakers are frozen in place around two matters of public concern: the fate of a massive budget surplus and the strength of the state’s gun laws in the aftermath of a school shooting that claimed 21 lives in Texas.
Talks on a potential special session to pass unfinished budget bills won’t resume until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Gov. Tim Walz said on Thursday. Walz said after filing for reelection that he’s hopeful he and legislative leaders can salvage their $8 billion deal — half each for tax relief and new spending — after running out of time to craft and pass bills in their regular session.
“We had a universal agreement that is fantastic for Minnesota. I just think as Minnesotans are out there listening and saying wait a minute, ‘We could have the largest tax cut, we could invest in roads, bridges and education. We could invest in thinking about workforce development for the future. And we could keep money on the bottom line in case the economy turns bad,’” Walz said. “Why in God's name, would anyone not accept that deal?”
Hours later, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt stood on the same Capitol plaza where Walz was earlier. He downplayed the prospects of a deal getting done.
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“The agreement they were close to at the end of session was not fiscally responsible for the state. If we do have an economic downturn, I’m worried that agreement did not leave any money on the bottom line,” Daudt, R-Zimmerman said. “And frankly I think the spending level was too high.”
In fact, as much as $4 billion would have gone untouched as a buffer against a deteriorating economy.
Many Republicans were enthusiastic about a $4 billion tax cut plan but less eager to rally around $4 billion in proposed spending. The spending bills put most of the money toward schools, child care, nursing homes, public safety and other items.
DFLers said they won’t pass a tax cut plan in isolation.
However, Daudt said he would be open to a special session around public works construction projects and federal transportation matching money.
Daudt said surplus money that isn’t divided up this year can go toward next year’s session, when his party hopes to have House control.
Debate over guns is not on a special session radar in any real way despite the Texas school shooting this week that has again caused public agony and fury.
Minnesota hasn’t imposed new restrictions on gun ownership in several years, and recent attempts have gotten bogged down.
Walz said more needs to be done to make sure guns don’t wind up in the wrong hands. He dismissed suggestions that additional background checks or temporary removal of guns from people in crisis would be cumbersome.
“As a longtime gun owner, as someone who's been around these both as military weapon, and as someone who owns them today, even calling it an inconvenience to do a background check, or to have in place red flag laws that do not take away your constitutional rights, I don’t understand that,” Walz said, adding, “I think planning a funeral for a nine year old is more of an inconvenience right now.”
His likely Republican opponent this fall, former state Sen. Scott Jensen, apologized to his party convention this month for co-sponsoring bills to impose new background check rules and other restrictions.
“When I was in my first term as a senator I put myself on the wrong side of the gun issue by thinking I could compel a conversation by putting my name on a bill and removing it six weeks later. That was a mistake,” Jensen said from the stage. “And I'm sorry, and I won't ever do it again.”
Jensen tweeted this week about the Uvalde school shooting: “Texans, my heart is with you. Let’s remember the victims, pray for the families, and courageously work - without ceasing - on the mental health crisis that daily devastates lives across America.”
Gun politics are also expected to bubble up in key legislative races.
Daudt said he’s not convinced proposed gun restrictions would have averted this week’s tragedy.
“We want to make sure that we address the problem and we believe the problem is a mental health problem. We already have some of the strongest gun laws,” Daudt said. “The gun laws that have been proposed would not have changed what happened in Texas and not prevented it. So we need to actually get down to the root cause of the problem, which is we're not addressing the mental health of folks in our state and our country.”
A key state legislator said he doesn’t see a path to passing new Minnesota gun restrictions given the current Capitol political alignment.
House Public Safety Committee Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, joined other community leaders in calling for action.
Mariani acknowledged that gun control bills won’t budge in the Republican-led Senate, but he said he hopes to build public pressure for change by keeping the focus on them.
“Lack of ideas is not the problem. Lack of will, lack of caring and a lack of care are. Lack of commitment by those elected to make laws is the problem,” Mariani said. “We are the problem. We are the ones failing.”
At a news conference, Mariani said proposals for changing age limits for legal purchases, imposing more background check rules and requiring safe storage are worthy of consideration.
Amelia Gonzalez Avalos, executive director of Latino civil rights and advocacy group, Unidos, read the names and ages of the students who were shot and killed in their classroom at Robb Elementary School.
“We are hungry for common sense, gun safety laws. We are clear that the joy of our children is worthy of any and every effort to make sure that we need that we reach and we make that the law of the land,” she said. “It's time for our elected officials to start giving explanations why this has not been solved.”