ST. PAUL — Advocates in matching T-shirts hoisted signs and marched through the Capitol this week, making a final attempt to convince Minnesota lawmakers to keep them in mind as they passed a massive two-year budget.
A group of immigrants invited lawmakers to join them for conversation in a tent on the lawn near the Capitol to ask for their votes to obtain driver's licenses.
LGBT advocates flooded a key Senate leader's office in an effort to ban conversion therapy.
Doctors prescribed a budget deal that included the continuation of a tax on medical providers that funds care for poor people, children, the elderly and the disabled.
And one group even chartered a plane to circle the building with a reminder to legislators to prioritize cracking down on fraud in a state child care assistance program.
As legislative leaders and the governor continued negotiation talks over the spending plan expected to top $48 billion, stakeholders with policies wrapped up in the budget bills aimed to win them over.
But with the clock running down and with leaders in the nation's only divided Legislature unlikely to give one another everything he or she would want, the advocates could come up short this year.
Now, with four days left in the legislative session, lawmakers will decide which of the policies become law or receive state funding and which fall by the wayside, at least until 2020.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said he told freshman lawmakers they might have to moderate their expectations ahead of the negotiations with GOP Senate leaders and the governor.
“We tell members that omnibus budget bills are like opening Christmas presents without knowing which gifts you have to return,” Winkler said.
You can ask for anything you want, but you might not get it when the deal is done, he said.
Democrats would like to see several pieces of priority policy and spending proposals passed this year, but Senate Republicans have said they face an unlikely path forward in that chamber. Efforts to provide driver's license to immigrants in the state, to allow felons who've completed their prison sentence to vote and to ban therapy aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity stand to be cut or significantly altered in conference committees.
Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to limit growth in state government funding, increase efforts to investigate and weed out fraud in government programs and require additional restrictions for abortion procedures.
And a linchpin to writing a compromise budget bill, whether the state should continue a 2% tax on medical providers that brings in roughly $700 million a year to fund the state's Medicaid and Medical Assistance programs, has also worried Minnesotans who depend on the programs, their doctors and hospital administrators.
The tax is set to sunset at the end of the year and Republican lawmakers have made it a priority to see it expire.
“There’s not a middle ground on taxes,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said between negotiations on Monday. “That’s not the direction we need to go. We don’t think we need it, and we want to make the case to the public.”
Dozens of patients on the state medical programs rallied at the Capitol on Thursday. And they marched up the stairs to the Minnesota Senate chambers, yelling, "Care not cuts."
Meanwhile, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Minnesota on Thursday said it would boost marketing and volunteer campaigns aimed at blocking the provider tax and a proposed tax hike on gasoline.
“Just throwing more money into the same big government solutions that are currently rampant with mismanagement and overspending, while doing nothing to reform or add accountability, will make Minnesota a less competitive, less prosperous, and less desirable place to live and work," the group's state director Jason Flohrs said in a news release.
And across the street, in a tent filled with food and posters that said, "Freedom to Drive," Daniel Soriano, held out hope that he could win over Republican senators on his proposal to allow undocumented immigrants in Minnesota to apply for driver's licenses.
"We have to have faith," Soriano, of Saint Bonifacius, said. "That's all we can do."