Last Wednesday was set for a return to legislative business after a few days off for the Passover religious observance. By now most are aware the State Senator Nicole Mitchell (DFL Woodbury) was arrested a few days earlier by Becker County police on a felony burglary charge after being found, unwanted, in her stepmother’s basement at 4:45am. As of last week she was temporarily benched in the Senate, which has been operating on a 34-33 DFL majority. The actions by the Senate chamber over the last few days have shown a 33-33 reality that stalled work on major pieces of legislation.

The question as they return to the Senate floor later this morning is will 33-33 effectively govern the remainder of the session’s business or will Sen. Mitchell come back to the chamber and cast votes, or might she be allowed to vote remotely? The remote voting rules in the Senate have been a subject of debate since coming out of the COVID pandemic. If Sen. Mitchell returns and starts voting, there will likely be an attempted filibuster by Senate Republicans to object to her voting. An ethics probe of Sen. Mitchell was filed and the initial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7.

What all of this means for advancing legislation is unclear. The supplemental spending and policy bills that were coming to the Senate floor were more often than not bills that would only pass on a party line vote, 34-33. Perhaps a leadership agreement will emerge in the Senate to allow a more moderate slate of supplemental budget and policy bills to advance towards final passage and the Governor’s desk.

At stake for Rural Education

The most significant item of interest for rural schools, that is advancing at this moment, is the direct allocation of $35 million or $40/pupil to school districts to support Read Act activities. The Compensatory Aid hold harmless is of interest, along with expanding 2,200 VPK slots. Our two marquee issues for this session: expanding LTFM for larger roof repair and replacement projects, and the creation of a Seasonal Recreational Tax Base Replacement Aid to buy-down the local property taxpayer cost for operating levies, are not in the supplemental bills advancing at this time. This is mostly due to the on-going budget impact they have on the state’s general fund and the previously adopted budget targets are insufficient to handle these requests.