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Legislature Reaches Final Three-Week Stretch Of Session, Hopes For Compromise

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Top lawmakers in the Minnesota Legislature struck a key bipartisan agreement last week on frontline worker bonuses and the unemployment trust fund, and they are hoping for similar compromise in the final days of the legislative session.

Gov. Tim Walz, GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman praised that deal during a ceremonial bill signing for the legislation Monday. The DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate ended a stalemate last Thursday that doubled the pool of money to $500 million for frontline workers bonus checks and fully refilled the jobless claims fund to the tune of $2.7 billion to spare businesses a tax increase.

There was also money earmarked for the Walz administration to continue its COVID-19 response.

"This agreement needs to be the first of many and I'm hopeful our work together on this agreement means there is more to come," Hortman said.

Miller added: "I am confident that we can continue to work together and really get good things done for the people of the state of Minnesota."

But the deal is just one of many issues that need to be resolved before May 23, the last day of session.

Each chamber is continuing to move ahead this week with its own supplemental budget bills on public safety, education, transportation and more -- and many of those proposals are very far apart. Republicans and Democrats also have dueling tax proposals.

When House and Senate bills diverge and the chambers don't agree to the other language, it forces the legislation into a "conference committee" to sort out differences.

But unlike last year, Walz said Monday that he would not call a special session extending their work.

"I'm not doing it. There is no reason for it," Walz said. "We've got 20 days. We proved how quickly we can move. We've teed up a lot of these issues, now it's just reaching some compromise and moving on."

Funding approved this year for the unemployment insurance, frontline worker pay and reinsurance, which is a program designed to stabilize health care costs, leaves more $6 billion dollars left of the record $9.2 billion surplus. That surplus is extra money to work with to supplement current spending for this biennium; lawmakers approved a two-year budget last year.

Walz on Monday also said he would continue to push for his one-time direct payments of $500 to individuals and $1,000 for married couples -- so called "Walz checks" that haven't gained traction in either the House or Senate. Neither of their tax proposals include the checks. But still, he vowed to fight for it in the final days of negotiations.

"I'm willing to compromise, but I'm not going to compromise out a top priority of mine," he said. "So I think that's alive and well."

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