Senate GOP unveils tax bill with income tax cut

Minnesota Republican Sens. Paul Gazelka (left) and Roger Chamberlain present the GOP tax plan during a press conference Wednesday. Chamberlain said the plan provides tax cuts totaling $800 million.

ST. PAUL — With just one week left in the 2019 legislative session, most of the major issues lawmakers have been debating for the past few months are still in the mix.

That's in part by design: leaving most issues in play until the end means they can all be used as a bargaining chip in final budget negotiations.

But that also means a lot of deal-making on everything from gun control and new abortion restrictions to tax increases will happen by May 20, the constitutional deadline for lawmakers to adjourn the regular session.

Here's a look at what issues have been resolved, what are still in play and one issue that doesn't look likely to be revived before the end:

What's (mostly) resolved

Hands-free cell phone driving requirement

Last month, the House and Senate agreed to legislation that bars people from using their cellphone for texts, calls or any other communications while operating a motor vehicle unless the device is in hands-free mode. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill, but the public awareness campaign has just begun. The law kicks in Aug. 1.

MNLARS future

The first win of the session was an agreement to keep funding going to avoid losing contractors working to fix the state's troubled drivers licensing and vehicle registration computer system.

And more recently, Walz and a bipartisan group of legislators stood together at a press conference and agreed that the best path forward is to start over with the system and an outside vendor. Bills to raise fees to pay for the new system were introduced Monday and are on the fast track.

Elimination of marital rape exception

A little-known provision in state law shielded spouses from prosecution in cases where they raped their partner. But Walz signed a bill eliminating that decades-old provision as part of a broader movement to update the state's sexual harassment and assault laws.

What's still in play

Presidential primary

Lawmakers are still haggling over who will get access to voters' party preferences for those who turn out for the new March 2020 presidential primary election. Some argue it's a backdoor party registration in a state that doesn't have it.

Tax conformity

Both the House and Senate tax bills conform state and federal tax laws, but they do it in different ways. The House bill aligns Minnesota's tax code with the 2017 federal tax bill in a way that raises additional revenue from corporations and businesses. Democrats and Republicans both want a deal this year, but passing a tax bill is not a necessity and the effort could fall apart in broader negotiations.

Elder care

Last week, the House passed a bill that licenses assisted living facilities, establishes new fees and creates a patient's bill of rights for many kinds of long-term care facilities. A Senate package of changes is also moving through committees and is getting closer to a floor vote.

Felon voting

House Democrats have tucked a proposal into a state government budget bill to allow people, once they complete their incarceration, to vote in Minnesota, but Senate Republicans have not moved a similar bill.

Opioid crisis

The House and Senate have now both passed bills that raise $20 million to start addressing the opioid epidemic by creating a new registration fee for drug distributors and manufacturers. But the Senate bills drops that fee in the event of a legal settlement between the state and an opioid manufacturer. The House bill does not, and that sticking point has delayed a final agreement.

Election security funding

The divided House and Senate can't agree on how much they should allow the Minnesota Secretary of State to access from a pool of federal election security funds. The House proposal lets the state tap all $6.6 million that's available from the federal government, but the Senate wants to move slower, authorizing just $1.5 million now. The bill has been stuck in conference committee for weeks.

Paid family leave

The House has passed a bill to create a new fund — filled by employees and employers — to cover paid family and emergency medical leave for employees across the state. The governor also supports the plan, but the Senate remains opposed.

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