Representatives and senators are tasked with passing a state budget for areas of state government activity from agriculture to zoos. Then the governor has to give his approval.
A new law will fund all those elected folks and other state operations.
Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sponsor the law that, in addition to appropriations for various agencies, boards and commissions, contains a handful of elections provisions, including a process for absentee ballot drop boxes and policy issues related to veterans. The law took effect July 1, 2021, unless otherwise noted.
It also terminates the March 23, 2020, peacetime emergency declaration by Gov. Tim Walz to address the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
2021 First Special Session: SSHF12/SSSF2*/SSCH12
State government spending
The law calls for $1.25 billion in General Fund spending in the 2022-23 biennium, a $78.5 million increase over the 2020-21 biennium.
The Office of the Attorney General is to receive $7.86 million more. Nearly $5 million of that is for investments in critical litigation technology resources necessary in modern litigation for a public law office. Other increases include $1.03 million for security upgrades, $700,000 for wage theft enforcement, $600,000 to help maintain experienced staff and $578,000 for enhanced antitrust resources.
Other changes include an $11.03 million increase for the Department of Revenue, mainly for an operating adjustment; $4.52 million for Minnesota Management and Budget; $4.37 million for MN.IT, mostly to implement recommendations from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Council on Information Technology; $2.8 million for the state auditor’s office, including almost $1.49 million to create a School Finance Accountability team; and $2.39 million more for the Administration Department. Many small agencies will receive slight operating adjustments.
Included in the funding is a $3.67 million operating adjustment for the Senate, $2.65 million for the House, $1.08 million for the Legislative Coordinating Commission and $579,000 for the Legislative Budget Office. Legislators are due to a $1,750 annual salary bump approved in March by the Legislative Salary Council.
The Health Eating, Here at Home program — known as Market Bucks — which matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program spending dollar-for-dollar (up to $10) at participating farmers markets, will again be funded at $650,000 for the biennium. Funding for the program that helps low-income residents make more purchases at farmers’ markets was formerly funded in the agriculture law.
Fiscal year 2021 cancellations of nearly $10.41 million in unspent funds are included in the law, as is $198,000 from the information and telecommunications technology systems and services account. On July 1, 2023, $1.2 million from the data security account will be canceled to the General Fund (Art. 1, Secs. 2-40)
[MORE: View the spreadsheet]
To maximize federal CARES Act fund usage, a COVID-19 flexible response account is created to pay expenditures that will later be reimbursed with federal dollars. A Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission will review proposed allocations from the account. (Art. 5, Secs. 1-5)
The law contains a $4.25 million funding increase for the Office of the Secretary of State, including $2 million for local grants for absentee ballot drop boxes and $1.5 million for election equipment grants.
Additionally, the law gives the office authority to distribute grants to local governments totaling $3 million in federal funds for election security upgrades.
The law formalizes a process for a municipality or county to use absentee ballot drop boxes, including security measures to enable round-the-clock access. A drop box must be:
• placed in an outdoor location and affixed to a building or bolted to a concrete pad;
• recorded at all times during the absentee voting period;
• secured against unauthorized access or weather damage; and
• emptied at least once per business day.
The agreement also includes language regarding storage of collected ballots, drop box locations, hours, signage and when a list of locations must be published on specific websites.
Establishment of standards for a manual recount of votes on a proposed constitutional amendment are included in the law. A recount will be required if the number of affirmative votes is within 0.25% of the number of all other ballots cast.
The law also establishes a deadline for county auditors to report information on undeliverable postal verification card data to the secretary of state, requires a jurisdiction providing election supplies to ensure a pen or other marking device suitable for the voting system being used is available in each voting booth, and requires election records and materials retained after an election to be stored in a locked container or other secured and locked space. (Art. 1, Secs. 6, 41-42; Art. 4, Secs. 3-6, 9-10, 12)
Veterans and Military Affairs
A nearly $30.9 million increase is slotted for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $8.69 million to operate new veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston. Another $4.5 million would be a state match to construct a veteran’s cemetery in Redwood Falls.
The department will also receive an $8.22 million operating adjustment, $6.33 million will be for an initiative to end veteran homelessness and $1.65 million aims “to address the problem of death by suicide among veterans in Minnesota.”
The law permits the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a stable housing initiative to provide resources to assist veterans experiencing homelessness. To more quickly help a veteran experiencing or at the risk of homelessness, the department can share a veteran’s data to coordinate homelessness prevention efforts with the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness and Homeless Veterans Registry partners.
The law will also:
• create an alternative-sentencing option for veterans with service-connected trauma, substance abuse or mental health conditions who commit certain crimes;
• rename the first Saturday in October from Veterans Suicide Awareness Day to Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day to raise awareness and promote prevention of suicides by veterans;
• let the Department of Veterans Affairs hire a publicity representative, a position that exists in some other state agencies;
• explicitly authorize the department to operate adult day care programs for veterans;
• allow the department to directly provide dental services for veteran’s homes resident.
• update the adjutant general appointment process, including that it must occur within 120 days of the position becoming vacant, term limit and rank requirement;
• correct ambiguities in, and clarify eligibility benefits, under the Minnesota GI bill; and
• establish requirements for the department to calculate the personal needs allowance for domiciliary residents. (Art. 3, Secs. 1-10, 12-13, 15)
Other policy provisions include:
• creation of a Capitol Area building account that could lead to a renovation or update of capitol complex buildings built before 1940, to address critical health, life safety, and security needs. Funds could come from issuance of lease revenue bonds or certificates of participation;
• the legislative auditor’s office is requested to conduct a review of the state's response to COVID-19;
• Minnesota Management and Budget shall procure a contract for the services of a pharmacy benefit manager to administer the prescription drug benefit and pharmacy benefit management services for members of the State Employees Group Insurance Program, effective Jan. 1, 2023;
• MMB can establish a virtual payments program to allow state payments to vendors through an electronic credit rather than a check;
• MMB is to contract with a qualified auditor to conduct an annual audit of the state’s use of federal grant funds, something managed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor since 1983;
• creation of a Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity;
• payment of an electric service fee for someone using a charging station in the State Capitol Complex to charge a private electric vehicle;
• recognizing Daylight Saving Time as the standard of time all year, provided federal legislation permits this change;
• eliminating a requirement that the manager of a salon school be a cosmetologist; and
• designating Aug. 15 as India Day “to commemorate and celebrate the diverse culture, heritage, traditions, and contributions of Minnesotans of Indian ancestry.” (Art. 2, Secs. 1-2, 4-8, 10, 20-22)