ST. PAUL — Legislative leaders blew past self-imposed deadlines for reaching a budget deal this week and seemed to near a breaking point Friday for getting their work done without calling a special session or risking a government shutdown.
As the clock clicked down toward the May 20 deadline to wrap up the regular session, legislative leaders offered few answers about what was going on in closed-door budget negotiations and whether they could get done on time.
Leaders in the nation's only divided Legislature earlier this year committed to do their work out in the open and to get targets set earlier than in years past. But that proved impossible for House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Gov. Tim Walz who spent days in private negotiations sessions.
The lack of direction stalled conference committees that said they needed a funding target to determine what they can pass this year. And heading into the final weekend of the session, some started putting out backup plans to prevent a government shutdown.
Now, with just over 72 hours left to finish its work, here's a look at what happened at the Capitol next week and what they'll have to get done over the weekend.
'The waiting is the hardest part'
Legislative leaders and the governor spent most of the week holed up behind closed doors negotiating a budget compromise. The talks kicked off with a series of blow-ups on Monday, after Democrats and Republicans exchanged offers but came up without a deal.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, lawmakers put the spat behind them and went into meetings that went late into the evening. And similar talks continued Thursday, though they broke up in the evening, putting off conversations until midday on Friday.
Lawmakers throughout the week said they were making progress and still intended to "land the plane" on time. But Thursday evening, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said the legislators had reached an "impasse" in negotiations. Rosen is chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee and has been involved in the closed-door talks.
With four days left to close out legislative business and to write a two-year budget, Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, brought forward a stopgap measure to prevent a state government shutdown. The proposal would fund state government slightly above current levels if lawmakers can't pass a two-year spending plan before June 30.
The measure passed the Senate Finance Committee but DFL lawmakers opposed it and said lawmakers should be expected to get their work done on time rather than counting on a plan to put state government on autopilot.
On Friday, legislative leaders said the talks were proceeding in an "honorable" fashion in private. And the fact that few leaks had come out from the "cone of silence" where the leaders did their work is a positive sign, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said.
“The negotiations have been honorable and professional. The fact that there’s not a lot of chatter outside of what’s going on there I think has been very good,” he said. “I hope to get there, I believe we're not too far off."
But some lawmakers indicated they were growing impatient.
“It’s time to give up on the $12 billion of tax increases, we can land this plane on time on Monday night," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, "but if you don’t give up on the tax increases that will not happen.”
Gun control bills go down in committee
A pair of bills aimed at restricting access to firearms failed in a conference committee vote this week, likely ending their chance at becoming law this year.
The panel aiming to reconcile differences between House and Senate public safety and judiciary spending bills on Tuesday rejected each of the bills with Democrats supporting them and Republicans opposing them. The bills needed a majority vote among both the House and Senate sides of the committee to be added to the larger spending bill.
The first bill would require background checks at the point of transfer of a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon. Exceptions would be made for firearm transfers to an immediate family member, transfers while hunting, at a shooting competition or at a gun range.
The second would allow law enforcement to remove a person's firearms if they are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Supporters said the bills could come up for debate again later.
Elder abuse deal struck, but clock could wind down before passage
A long-awaited deal was struck this week to license assisted living facilities in Minnesota and to bolster protections for residents of the senior housing facilities.
But in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, some were skeptical about whether lawmakers would have enough time to complete it this year.
The sweeping proposal would make Minnesota the last state to license assisted living facilities and set a base level of care required for residents, which would be made clear to them and to their family members before they sign a contract.
It would also set in place new protections for tens of thousands of older adults who live in assisted living facilities. Among them is a provision allowing them to place video cameras or other recording devices in their rooms. And they would be protected against retaliation or other adverse actions for taking those recordings or for reporting abuse or inadequate care.
The measure was set to be considered as part of a larger health and human services spending bill.