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Tensions rise at state capitol as legislative session's end draws near

Tensions rise at the state capitol as session comes to a close
Tensions rise at the state capitol as session comes to a close 02:05

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Tensions rose at the state capitol this week with prolonged debates and political finger-pointing by both Democrats and Republicans, defining features of the final few days of any legislative session. 

Lawmakers must adjourn on Monday and the DFL majority is racing to complete its to-do list of bills, but not before Republicans have their say. On several bills this week, debates lasted more than seven hours on a single bill in both chambers. 

The frustration between the caucuses culminated late Wednesday just before midnight when House Speaker Melissa Hortman cut off debate and forced a vote. Many Republicans were yelling, demanding that she reverse course and let the debate continue. The procedural move drew the ire of GOP members who decried it as undemocratic and said doing so threatened to derail their support of bills that may require their vote to get them over the finish line.

"Everything is at risk right now—bonding, sports bettingUber/Lyft  — everything where Republican votes may be needed is at risk because of the action taken last night," said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, during a news conference Thursday. 

Later Thursday, Hortman and House Majority Leader Jamie Long stood by the decision to stop the debate and the Speaker told reporters she would do it again as needed in the final three days when lawmakers can debate the remaining bills  . The Legislature cannot pass bills on the constitutional end date Monday, so all debate on any remaining bills will be through the weekend. 

"The minority absolutely has a right to be heard. Eight hours was a full debate on the paid family medical leave technical bill," Hortman said of Wednesday's debate. "But just as the [House chamber] rules provide that the minority has a right to be heard, the rule of the House also provides that the majority has a right and the responsibility to govern."

On Monday, the controversial equal rights constitutional amendment was on the calendar for a House floor vote, but it never was brought up for discussion after debate on a bill that ultimately got some bipartisan support lasted hours. Democrats accuse Republicans of deliberately filibustering to stop the ERA from passing. 

The amendment proposal would enshrine equal rights in the state's constitution, guaranteeing protection from discrimination on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and more. New language would also safeguard abortion rights, sparking fierce pushback. If it passes both chambers, voters would get to weigh in during the 2026 election.

DFL leaders were resolute Thursday, vowing a vote on the ERA Friday and pledging that no negotiations—like a deal to pass a bonding proposal to support local infrastructure that requires GOP votes—would keep them from passing it. 

"We have the tools to get the entire agenda done, so I don't think anything has to be risked or sacrificed to do ERA except for perhaps a bonding bill," Hortman said. "If Republicans are conditioning their support for our bonding bill on denying civil rights to trans Minnesotans, then we won't have a bonding bill."

In addition to the equal rights amendment, bills that would legalize sports betting,regulate rideshare companies, and allow more cities to adopt ranked choice votingwill be eligible for full chamber votes in the House Fridat.

Despite political tensions following the abrupt end to floor debate, Hortman signaled there's still a chance for a last minute bipartisan infrastructure package to come together.

"At the legislature, it's always darkest before dawn, but first you have to get pitch black," she said. "But I don't think ultimately that will have a big impact. This is something that always happens at the end of session—whether it's us in charge, whether it's Republicans in charge. It's very tense. People are exhausted. Everything comes down to the last few days."

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