The Minnesota Legislature had 75 days to get two main things accomplished — a bonding bill for public works projects and transportation funding.
Even though legislators had the luxury of working with a $900 million budget surplus, they failed on both accounts.
There’s been plenty of finger-pointing about who was most at fault, but the blame game rings hollow session after session. Constituents want action and solutions, not excuses.
There were other missed opportunities as well. No deal was struck on approving Real ID and yet another push to allow liquor stores to stay open on Sunday went down the tube.
There were some silver linings to the session, however, that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Senate led the way in approving a modest increase of $20 million in local government aid (LGA), a lifeline that helps rural cities pay for critical services, such as streets, fire protection and law enforcement. The increase fell short of restoring LGA to 2002 levels but it’s headway.
Other highlights included $260 million in tax relief for farmers, businesses, college graduates and parents with child care costs, and $35 million in extra grants for expanding broadband services.
The Legislature also showed foresight in switching Minnesota’s way of showing its preference for president by moving away from the antiquated caucus system to a presidential primary. It makes sense to put that election in the hands of the state instead of political parties. The new system will be used for the 2020 election.
Other lesser-known accomplishments that didn’t grab a lot of headlines but are worth noting include:
- A repeal of Minnesota’s Depression-era, five-day marriage license waiting period. Minnesota was one of only two states in the nation with such a long waiting period, but now has joined the majority.
- A sentencing overhaul bill that provides the first major overhaul of Minnesota’s drug laws in 27 years. Changes include lower required prison sentences for most drug crimes, definitions of what a "trace" amount of drugs is, and the elimination of mandatory penalties on lesser-degree drug crimes.
- A measure that makes permanent a task force dedicated to improving Minnesota’s child protection laws.
- A law creating, for the first time, animal trusts, which allow people to leave money dedicated for care of their animals in their bequests. Minnesota was the only state in the nation without such a law.
All in all, the 2016 legislative session reads like the start of the Charles Dicken’s novel, A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times [a $900 million surplus], it was the worst of times [missed opportunities]." If Gov. Dayton calls for a special session, let’s hope the Legislature won’t echo the novel’s next line: "It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness."
ALEXANDRIA ECHO PRESS