State Policy: Laws and Bills

2017 Legislative Session Summary

The 2017 Legislative Session convened on January 3, and with it, the newly-renovated State Capitol was unveiled. Legislators and the public alike were in awe of the vibrancy of the murals, refurbished committee rooms, and expanded public space. 

Along with the changes to the building, there were significant changes to the Legislature as well. In the 2016 elections, the GOP took control of the Minnesota Senate for only the second time-- with a narrow 34-33 majority. Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) was elected Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) assumed the role of Minority Leader.

In the House, Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) grew his majority to 77-57. Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) was chosen as the House Minority Leader. 

Throughout the session, there was a sharp divide between the priorities of Governor Dayton and the GOP Legislature. 2017 was a “budget year,” meaning the Legislature needed to pass a state budget for the FY 2018-19 biennium. While lawmakers wanted to pass significant tax cuts, the Governor wanted to invest much of the $1.6 billion budget surplus in education and other priorities. 

Budget negotiations were prolonged and largely unproductive. As the Governor refused to negotiate until the Legislature produced its budget targets, the Legislature passed its first round of budget omnibus bills before universal targets had been reached. As promised, the Governor vetoed all of those bills. As the clock wound down, negotiation progress remained slow and it became apparent that lawmakers would not meet their May 22 midnight deadline. Only four of the nine budget bills had been passed by both legislative bodies at that time. 

Just before midnight, the Governor, Speaker, and Majority Leader announced that they had come to an overall agreement and a Special Session would be called immediately to finish passing the remaining bills. They agreed that the Special Session would conclude by 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday May 24. 

This deadline came and passed, as the specific contents of each bill needed to be finalized, drafted, and debated on the House and Senate floors. Squabbles between the GOP and DFL ensued, with each blaming the other for breaking the agreement. (The GOP for not meeting the deadline and the DFL for offering amendments and prolonging debate). 

The 2017 Special Session finally concluded in the wee morning hours of May 26. 

The Governor signed all of the budget bills into law, but expressed displeasure in a “sneak attack” by the Legislature, where they inserted a provision into the State Government budget bill that would withhold funding from the Department of Revenue unless the Tax Bill was signed into law. His response was line-item vetoing the funding required for the Legislature to operate, telling lawmakers he would call them back into Special Session to restore it if they would agree to several changes to the tax bill, along with repealing language related to undocumented immigrant drivers licenses and teacher licensure. Legislators were outraged and contended that the Governor’s actions were unconstitutional under separation of powers provisions. The House and Senate secured legal counsel and filed suit against the Governor. The Ramsey County District Court judge struck down the Governor’s veto, noting that “effectively eliminating a coequal branch of government” violated the state Constitution. Governor Dayton has appealed this decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Oral arguments are set for 8/28/17, after the printing of this summary.


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