MREA’s Director of Legislative Action Sam Walseth will provide attendees of the MREA Annual Conference on Tuesday an inside look at the current legislative landscape and share what’s next for the E-12 education.

“While the pandemic has changed our format this year, it hasn’t changed the belief I have in the work you do each day for kids and the work we do together to advocate for them,” Walseth said.

The most recent Special Session of the Minnesota Legislature just finished Thursday in the wake of state and national election results.

Here’s a quick update on:

  • Election Results
  • Action in Special Session #6
  • New Senate President
  • Holding Pupil Funding Harmless

Election Review – Divided Government 

The Senate GOP is poised to retain control of the chamber with a 34-33 majority heading into January. Likewise, the House DFL will maintain a 70-64 majority in January. Managing our way through the pandemic and economic crisis will take bi-partisan work.

As much as we need the President-elect to bring the country together, we as citizens need to be willing to stop the incessant partisan fighting and help our leaders find common ground and make the tough decisions to get us back on track.

Special Session #6

The state’s 6th special session came and went in an afternoon last Thursday. With the election behind us and COVID-19 cases spiking across the state, the tone of this special session was much more subdued.

The Senate GOP, which had 5 times previously voted to terminate Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency declaration, didn’t even bother to vote on them this go around. The House GOP didn’t go after Walz’s emergency declaration either.

Instead, they offered a bill that would require an up or down vote on each emergency order issues during a 30-day peacetime emergency period. One of the House GOP arguments for being able to vote on each order was the recently issued 30-minute prep time mandate on schools, found in EO 20-94 and 20-95.

Responding to school district officials’ concerns, House GOP members said this was a prime example of an executive order going deep, and potentially too far in a health emergency situation, where the legislature should have been involved and been able to vote.

New Senate President

The Senate made an interesting move during the special session. On a 63-4 vote, the Senate elected Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL Chisholm) as the President of the Senate for the remainder of the 91st Legislative session.

It was a preemptive maneuver should Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan leave her post for a position in the new Biden-Harris administration (or elsewhere).

As we learned when Governor Dayton appointed then Lt. Gov Tina Smith to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Al Franken, the state’s constitution requires the President of the State Senate to fill the Lt. Gov post. At that time Sen. Michelle Fischbach was the President of the Senate and assumed the Lt. Gov post immediately following the 2018 session, which ended the pending litigation on whether or not she had to leave her Senate seat in order to fill the Lt. Gov duties. Fischbach is now Congresswoman-elect in CD 7.

You might ask why the Senate GOP majority would remove their own member, Sen. Jeremy Miller (GOP Winona), and help install a DFLer as President. If Flanagan leaves her post, Tomassoni will have to take the Lt. Gov position and open up a special election in Senate District 6 (Iron Range) where the GOP thinks they have a shot at picking up a seat and adding a cushion to their 34-33 majority come January.

We’ll see what actually happens with the Biden transition and any reshuffling that impacts the Minnesota political chessboard.

Pupil Enrollment Hold Harmless

Many school districts are facing problems associated with pupil enrollment declines during the pandemic. A few legislators are starting to take notice.

Sen. Paul Utke (GOP Park Rapids) and Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL Minneapolis) have introduced legislation over the course of the last few special sessions that would address the pupil enrollment declines districts are facing. It’s possible that the legislature could address this issue when they come in for the next special session in December.

However, the December special session will be in the immediate wake of the November budget forecast release that will show a huge deficit.

Some district leaders have reached out to their legislators about this issue, and the problems associate with compensatory funding due to free meals this year and the reduced numbers of Free & Reduced Eligible (FRE) applications. The early message back is that the legislature will go slow on addressing pupil count problems as they look at the entirety of the state’s budget.

In the meantime, it is imperative school leaders articulate the impact the pupil count and compensatory issues are having on your district’s budget. What does it mean for staffing? For student services and programs?

Legislators are rightfully hearing many concerns from small businesses during the pandemic, creating a tug-of-war in communities with businesses trying to stay open and schools wanting to stay open. It’s a negative-sum-game right now and damage is being done across all sectors of the economy.

Staying in communication with legislators is more important than ever as we seek common ground to pull out of the economic crisis. Balancing the state’s budget with a massive deficit, between a divided legislature, is a big test.