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2024 Minnesota legislative session comes to chaotic end

Inside the tumultuous final hours of Minnesota’s 2024 legislative session
Inside the tumultuous final hours of Minnesota’s 2024 legislative session 02:01

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Legislature ended its work for the 2024 session Sunday with a chaotic finale, as political tensions erupted over a last-minute decision by Democrats to put their unfinished priorities into one bill to get them across the finish line.

In the second year of total DFL control of state government, lawmakers on the final day sent to the governor one-time aid to shore up emergency medical services in rural Minnesota; new regulations for the fledgling cannabis industry; and a deal to pay rideshare drivers statewide a minimum wage that would keep Uber and Lyft from exiting the state, which they threatened to do because of a Minneapolis ordinance.

But the finale was far from smooth. Both chambers descended into chaos after Democrats bypassed debate and went straight to a vote on a tax bill in which they added provisions from eight other proposals that otherwise would not have cleared both chambers by the midnight deadline for passing bills. 

"Tonight the Democrats in the Minnesota House of Representatives did what we needed to do to pass our agenda," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

Republicans were shouting, seeking motions to stop the vote by Democrats. Some members yelled "tyranny" and "communism" in the frantic final minutes; one representative characterized the bill as a "grand theft omnibus bill."

DFL leaders defended their decision to abruptly bring that bill up for a vote without debate, arguing Republicans already had a chance to voice their concerns on many of the conference committee reports included in it throughout the process. They accused the GOP of filibustering and forcing the Democrats' hands. 

"They knew exactly what they were doing when they spoke for hours and hours on things and told stories about their families and didn't talk about the bills at all," Hortman told reporters early Monday morning. "It was a deliberate effort to block progress and we had to take extraordinary measures, which are authorized by the rules, to pass the bills."

Meanwhile, Republicans said they didn't even get a chance to look at the 1,400-page bill before they were forced to vote on it. They condemned the DFL's action as steamrolling and silencing the minority in pursuit of a partisan agenda because they mismanaged their time, even though they control all of state government.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth quickly filed an ethics complaint against Hortman following the move. 

"This is the biggest disappointment. I just feel gross coming off that Senate floor today," said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson. "The abuse of the rules, the unconstitutional bills that are coming off of there, and by the way, they use an alleged felon to pass these bills — the number 34 vote on a number of the controversial bills that came through this year — all to protect an agenda."

Johnson was referring to Sen. Nicole Mitchell, a Democrat from Woodbury, charged with felony burglary for allegedly breaking into her stepmother's home in Detroit Lakes last month. Her arrest initially threw the rest of session and Democrats' ability to pass their priorities into doubt, and the impact loomed large in the final weeks of session. 

Republicans repeatedly tried procedural moves to limit what Mitchell could do in the chamber and get Democrats on the record about the incident, including motions to force her recusal from voting on bills and to expel her from the chamber

But on controversial bills, Mitchell joined other members in the one-seat DFL majority to get their agenda passed.

The House adjourned after members returned later Monday so retiring representatives could bid their farewells in a speech, as is tradition. The Senate ended the year sine die at midnight.

Equal rights amendment, sports betting fail to pass

Some issues did fall by the wayside amid the end-of-session crush of legislation. The Minnesota House approved an equal rights constitutional amendment early Sunday that would've asked voters whether they wanted to enshrine protections from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender and more into the Constitution. The language would've also bolstered abortion rights. 

Supporters of the ERA are urging Minnesotans to call Gov. Tim Walz and demand a special session to get it across the finish line and primed for a vote on the 2026 ballot.

It was unclear in recent days if Senate Democrats had enough support within their own caucus to pass it, but Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy said it didn't pass due to time limitations in the final hours.

When asked at a news conference Monday if he would consider bringing lawmakers back to St. Paul, the governor said no.

"I think there was ample opportunities to have a broader discussion around the ERA, which I think this civil rights issue is important," Walz said. "But overall, I think with the list of things you saw got done, the things that move Minnesota forward — governing is not a moment in time. It's what you do over time, and we were able to do that, continue that momentum. I feel pretty good about that."

Key negotiators working to broker a sports gambling bill also came up short, though they said they reached a framework for a deal that all stakeholders could get behind, calling it a "foundation for the future" to get it done.

After weeks of back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats, negotiations between all four leaders collapsed, and they failed to put together a bonding bill — which requires a three-fifths majority — to fund infrastructure projects across the state. 

At the last minute, House Democrats passed a $71 million cash bill, but it did not pass the Senate before midnight, so it failed. 

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