ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Lawmakers were returning Tuesday to the Minnesota Capitol to begin the legislative session, facing a lengthy agenda along with some doubt that they’d get to it all.
A push to fund hundreds of millions in public construction projects, fixing the state’s computer system for license plates and debates about aligning Minnesota’s tax code with federal tax cuts will dominate the three-month session. The session formally begins at noon and runs through mid-May.
But that work won’t begin in earnest until at least March, after lawmakers get an update on the state’s finances. A December estimate projected a small budget deficit for 2018, but Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders expected that to turn into a sizable surplus.
And their lofty agenda could be hamstrung by the ongoing battle over Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach’s dual role since becoming lieutenant governor earlier this year.
Fischbach ascended to become Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s second-in-command earlier this year, after he appointed Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate. But Fischbach is trying to keep her Senate seat, thereby protecting the GOP’s narrow majority in the chamber.
Top Senate Democrats have been coy about how they’d proceed after a Ramsey County judge dismissed a lawsuit from one of Fischbach’s constituents. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk has indicated they may sue again soon after the session begins.
If Fischbach is forced out of office, it would leave the Senate deadlocked at 33-33, triggering a special election for her central Minnesota district and potentially putting Senate activity on pause for weeks or longer.
But little of the year’s to-do list is essential: Lawmakers already passed a new, $46 billion two-year budget last year.
Gun control advocates disagreed. Moms Demand Action and Indivisible Minnesota Local planned separate rallies at the Capitol to coincide with Tuesday’s session start, calling on lawmakers to expand background checks and resist efforts to widen the state’s gun laws after the school shooting in Florida last week that killed 17 students and teachers.
And the Legislature was set to finally return to full-strength on Tuesday as two new lawmakers were scheduled to be sworn in, replacing their predecessors who resigned late last year amid sexual harassment allegations. Democrat Karla Bigham will replace former Sen. Dan Schoen in a Cottage Grove-area district while Republican Jeremy Munson takes ex-Rep. Tony Cornish’s southwestern Minnesota seat in the House.
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)