Legislative Update: Committee Deadlines, Bills Already Advancing

By: Stu Lourey, MFU Government Relations Director

Tuesday, January 17th marked the start of the third week of the state legislative session, leaving roughly 18 weeks until the constitutional adjournment on May 22nd.  Legislative hearings ramped up to full speed sooner than usual this year with the Governor signing a first bill—tax conformity—into law last Friday. MFU’s legislative team has kept pace, testifying on priority issues, meeting with Chairs, and otherwise ensuring that legislators understand the needs and perspectives of family farmers and rural Minnesotans.

The state legislature is faced with a record-breaking $17.6 billion surplus. Last week, President Wertish published an editorial highlighting top issues legislators should focus on. In their newsletter, the Reformer noted that the “first item on [Gary’s] agenda has nothing to do with ag, strictly speaking. It’s health care, including a MinnesotaCare public buy-in, which should happen this year if all goes well.”

In meetings with legislators MFU’s legislative team has been stressing the importance of making real progress on healthcare. This is the year the state finally allows farmers and other small business owners to ‘buy-in’ to MinnesotaCare at an affordable price, providing real options for Minnesotans who don’t meet income guidelines but are facing unsustainable costs. House Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis) is carrying this proposal (HF96) in the House and Senate Health and Human Services Chair Melissa Wicklund (DFL-Bloomington) is leading (SF49) in the Senate. The proposal aligns with what MFU advocated for last session and since it was first proposed by Governor Dayton.

MFU is planning to advocate for the MinnesotaCare Buy-in in coordination with partners on Thursday, January 26th. If you’re interested and available to join, please reach out to Stu at stu@mfu.org or (320) 232-3047 (C).

This legislation and others will need to adhere to committee deadlines which were agreed to by legislative leaders late last week. Deadlines for this session are:

  • Friday, March 10 — Committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin.
  • Friday, March 24 — Committees must act favorably on bills, or companions of bills, that met the first deadline in the other body.
  • Tuesday, April 4 (5 p.m.) — Committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills.

Importantly, these deadlines don’t apply for bonding, taxes, or other committees charged strictly with approving spending—they’ll need to continue their work throughout session. The legislative break is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4 through Monday, April 10.

Last Friday, Senate Agriculture Chair, Aric Putnam (DFL-St. Cloud) spoke with MFU County Officers and shared his interest in hosting more listening sessions over the legislative break. Don’t forget to register for the listening session this Friday (1/20) at 2:00pm in Pierz with Chairs Putnam and Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Park).

The tax conformity bill Governor Walz signed into law was passed on a strong bipartisan basis and will provide approximately $100 million in tax cuts for 50,000 individuals and businesses. DFL and Republican legislators worked diligently on the deal to align Minnesota’s tax code with federal changes before taxes are due this year. Big changes included forgiving state taxes on restaurants and venues that received federal relief during pandemic. The bill would also exempt student loan forgiveness from state taxes.

In all, the bill is far from revolutionary—and far from what was agreed to in conference during the final days of last session. That said, it does bode well for bipartisan work going forward. MFU offered testimony on priorities included in last year’s tax package last Wednesday, namely:

  • Expanding the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit by allowing family members to participate for sale of agricultural assets, increasing the credit for Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color, increasing the credit for sale of agricultural assets, and providing more funding to administer the program
  • Increasing the Ag to School Tax Credit to 85 percent to help more communities benefit from this successful program. This proposal was championed by now Revenue Commissioner, Paul Marquart, when he served as House Tax Chair last session.
  • Increasing the ag homestead limit to help farmers manage increasing land prices and retain family operations.
  • Funding SWCDs through a local government aid program that will provide them with the long-term funding they need to best assist farmers in meeting their on farm conservation goals.

“Now with an even larger surplus, we are grateful you’re considering meaningful, long-term investments in the vitality of family farms and rural communities,” said President Gary Wertish in written remarks to the committee. “We appreciate you starting the 2023 session by reviewing [changes proposed in 2022].”

Another bill that DFLers are moving quickly is a proposal that would create a state-administered paid family and medical leave program in Minnesota (SF2 / HF2). The proposal would provide 12 weeks of paid family and 12 weeks of paid medial leave for Minnesotans. And it would be funded by premium that is a 0.6% tax on weekly taxable wages which can be split between employer and employee, but with employees paying no more than 50% of the premium. Important for farmers, self-employed individuals are eligible for the program, but not required to join. For someone who is self-employed to qualify you must have net earnings of at least $10,000 in the previous two taxable years, will pay an employer premium of 0.3% and must elect to participate for a minimum of two years.

MFU does not have a position outlined in policy, but if you have thoughts on the proposal, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Justin at justin@mfu.org. You might also join this Main Street Alliance listening session aimed at small business the evening of Thursday, January 19.

MFU also testified in support of allowing immigrants to earn a driver’s licenseuniversal school lunch, and formally prohibiting price gouging.

“It is critical that Minnesota has additional tools for cracking down on corporate profiteering, and prohibiting price gouging is a first step,” President Gary Wertish said in his remarks to the House Commerce Committee.

This week, the Governor will begin rollout of his annual budget request, Commissioner Paul Marquart will be considered for confirmation, the House will hear bills to fund the Rural Finance Authority, and MFU will host ag chairs for a listening session in Pierz. As always, if you have questions, concerns or thoughts about MFU’s legislative work, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Stu at (320) 232-3047 (C) or stu@mfu.org.