ST. PAUL — Plans to restrict Minnesotans' access to firearms in some cases again inflamed arguments at the Capitol this week as the Minnesota House of Representatives approved the plans, with supporters arguing they could reduce gun violence in the state.
An economic forecast report showed the state is expected to post a $1.5 billion budget surplus, which launched debates about who could benefit the most from the funds and how lawmakers ought to spend them.
And days before Minnesotans go to the polls for the presidential primary election, legislators in one chamber advanced a plan to restrict the sharing of voters' information while a committee on the other side of the Capitol took up a proposal to require photo identification to cast a ballot.
While discussions around the gun control plans and voter I.D. appeared unlikely to make the jump across the divided Capitol, discussions about how to spend the surplus and whether to take another sweep at the limitations around voter data promised to linger for weeks, or potentially months in the Minnesota Legislature.
After a whirlwind week, here's a look at what you might have missed in the Minnesota Legislature.
Gun bills pass House, face wall in Senate
A pair of gun control measures on Thursday night advanced through the Minnesota House of Representatives after hours of debate on each of the proposals. And even before they passed, Republicans who hold a majority in the Minnesota Senate made clear that they wouldn't be taken up there.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairs the Senate Public Safety and Judiciary Committee and has said he won't take up measures this year that appear unlikely to pass the divided Legislature. And after a hearing on a broad array of firearm bills in Hibbing, Limmer said other Senate leaders have left open the option to take up the bills if House lawmakers passed them as stand-alone measures.
The House last year advanced the bills as part of larger spending proposals.
"I think it's obvious that we have a House chamber that wants to go in one direction and a Senate chamber that may want to go in a different direction and never the twain shall meet," Limmer said last month. "And then you have a governor that probably wouldn't sign one bill and the Senate won't pass them out for the governor to sign."
Republicans have said the Legislature should focus on pushing for enforcement of existing firearm laws rather than putting on the books new restrictions. They have put forth plans to increase penalties for those who transfer firearms to someone who has broken the law and require courts to set compliance hearings to ensure firearms are removed from those who violate abuse, assault and harassment laws.
Budget forecast sets goalposts for spending fights
State budget and finance officials on Thursday, Feb. 27, offered an economic outlook and updated an update look the status of Minnesota's finances. The report showed the state has a $1.5 billion surplus, which was slightly more than was forecast late last year, and has a relatively stable economy.
The news reinvigorated pushes from Democrats, Republicans and various interest groups to make their case for the best way to spend the funds. And requests for how to spend that money came in almost immediately.
Minnesota counties asked that the state use the money to cover the cost of county overpayments for administering federal programs; lawmakers have split over who should foot the bill for the improper spending. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce requested that lawmakers conform state income tax business expensing rules to match the federal rules. And Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers union, called on the Legislature to use the money to fund a push to promote equity in schools.
While the two sides of the divided statehouse put forth different plans for the money, they had some ideas in common. Both said early childhood education funding and replenishing the state's rainy day funds should be top priorities. And both Democrats and Republicans indicated that they'd be open to changes to the state's tax codes.
Debates over that money will likely play out over the next several months.
House, Senate advance voter policies
Days before Minnesota voters are set to cast votes in the presidential primary, the House of Representatives approved a plan to require political parties that obtain data about how Minnesotans in the contest keep that information private or risk penalties.
The move comes after lawmakers from both parties reported concerns about voter privacy and a potential chilling effect at the polls as Minnesotans worried about the partisan ballot they select becoming public. Senate Republican leaders have also put forth a voter privacy proposal that is set to come up in committee on Tuesday.
Lawmakers could still move to stiffen penalties for sharing the data before the counties send in voter data to the state and Secretary of State Steve Simon, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin and others have asked that they do so. Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said the party has said she is open to the Senate proposal but doesn't see a need to rush legislation days before the primary.
A Senate panel on Thursday also took up a discussion about election security and advanced a plan that would require voters to present photo identification in order to cast their ballots. A similar proposed constitutional amendment failed on the ballot in 2012 and House Democrats have said they don't support it.