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Omnibus jobs conference committee starts work on reconciling a $70 million appropriations gap between House, Senate versions

Rep. Hodan Hassan and Senate President Bobby Joe Champion enjoy a moment together May 1 before the first meeting of the omnibus jobs and labor conference committee. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Rep. Hodan Hassan and Senate President Bobby Joe Champion enjoy a moment together May 1 before the first meeting of the omnibus jobs and labor conference committee. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

Last week, the House amended and passed the omnibus jobs, economic development, labor, and industry finance bill.

The amendment to include House language in HF3028/SF3035* diverges considerably from its Senate counterpart.

With the ink now dry on that initial disagreement, a conference committee began its work Monday to mediate the differences. The plan is to meet again at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and sometime Wednesday, during which testimony is expected to be taken.

Both chambers aim to enact an expansive program to address the workforce shortage, eliminate economic disparities, and improve workplace safety across multiple industries by appropriating over $1 billion and making dozens of policy changes.

However, the grand total in the House lands at $1.41 billion, while the Senate’s price tag is $1.34 billion. Let’s now dig into what accounts for that $70 million difference.

[MORE: View the appropriations side-by-side comparison]

Economic and workforce development

The main culprit responsible for the discrepancy is proposed funding for the Department of Employment and Economic Development — $1.26 billion in the House; $1.19 billion in the Senate.

Agreement on major appropriations include:

  • $300 million to match federal funds for microelectronic manufacturing facilities and workforce development;
  • $13 million for grants to local communities to increase the number of quality child care providers;
  • $5 million in fiscal year 2024 for Bloomington to prepare a bid to host the 2027 World’s Fair;
  • $5 million for the Neighborhood Development Center; and
  • $1 million for the emerging developer fund program.

However, there are numerous House-only appropriations, such as:

  • $125.87 million for the empowering enterprise program (Twin Cities civil unrest recovery);
  • $10 million for targeted community capital project grant programs;
  • $6 million to fund competitive grants to attract large-scale sporting and other major events to the state; and
  • $2.5 million to hire, train, and deploy small business navigators throughout the state.

On the other hand, the PROMISE Act — a $100 million Senate-only proposal — would institute a program to make grants and loans “to businesses in communities that have been adversely affected by structural racial discrimination, civil unrest, lack of access to capital, loss of population or an aging population, or lack of regional economic diversification.”

A small sliver of daylight is found in the proposed allocations for Explore Minnesota — $47.5 million in the House vs. $45.9 million in the Senate. The executive branch agency designed to promote tourism would also have its mission and structure greatly refined by the Senate, while the House is silent on the issue.

Lastly, the House would like to send $7 million to the Department of Corrections to provide increased educational opportunities and expand the work release program for individuals incarcerated in state prisons. The Senate is offering a goose egg in this bill but is earmarking $4 million for the work release program in the omnibus judiciary and public safety bill.

Conference Committee on SF3035 5/1/23

Labor and industry

The two chambers’ proposed labor appropriations come within shouting distance of each other – $100.1 million on the House side vs. $95.9 million from the Senate. There is also large agreement on how to divvy up that pot of money, for example:

  • $30.9 million for the Workers’ Compensation Fund and $5.1 million for the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals;
  • $4.1 million for wage theft prevention;
  • $3.2 million for prevailing wage enforcement;
  • $3 million in grants for clean economy jobs;
  • $544,000 for outreach and enforcement related to updates of the Women’s Economic Security Act;
  • $497,000 for a novel regulatory framework of combative sports; and
  • $326,000 to beef up workplace protections for agricultural and food processing workers.

However, differences also abound. House preferences include the following:

  • $6 million for the Bureau of Mediation Services, nearly $1.5 million more than the Senate;
  • $2.9 million for the ergonomics safety program, around $700,000 more than the Senate;
  • 1.2 million in grant monies for Building Strong Communities, Inc., whereas the Senate only earmarks $450,00 for this organization to fund its Helmets to Hardhats Minnesota Initiative; and
  • $206,000 for warehouse worker safety, while the Senate allocates nothing.

In contrast, the Senate smiles more favorably upon these categories:

  • $2.3 million for the labor education advancement grant program to foster the employment of people of color, Indigenous people, and women in apprenticeable trades, approximately $300,000 more than the House;
  • over $1 million for a newly established Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board, around $400,000 more than the House;
  • $394,000 to the Department of Labor and Industry and $383,000 to the attorney general’s office to carry out the Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act, with the House concurring only with the former allotment; and
  • $84,000 to the Department of Revenue to “implement and administer the change to the state income tax subtraction,” which is wholly absent on the House side.

Finally, while the Senate would send the Office of the Attorney General $350,000 to augment existing construction worker wage protections, the House would opt against a direct appropriation for enforcement, and instead create a new statute holding general contractors civilly liable for malfeasance committed by their hired subcontractors.

In regards to policy, conferees agree on these major regulatory changes:

  • updating the Packinghouse Workers Bill of Rights to enlarge protections for food processing workers and expand those protections to a wider pool of workers;
  • aiming to raise wages and working conditions for nursing home employees via the creation of a Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board; and
  • strengthening health and safety regulations at meat and poultry processing workplaces with 100 or more employees, largely in response to working conditions experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the Senate bill also includes the banning of most non-compete covenants – on an even more stringent basis than the House proposal heard earlier this session.

Finally, minor policy adjustments garnering approval from both chambers include:

  • doubling of fines for failing to post employees’ rights posters in a workplace: willful or repeated violations could go as high as $156,259 per violation, while serious or nonserious violations would max out at $15,625 per violation;
  • mandating an ergonomics safety program at all hospitals, outpatient surgical centers, and nursing homes, as well as at all warehouses and meatpacking or poultry processing sites with 100 or more workers to minimize workplace injuries;
  • modifying the State Building Code to require adult-size changing facilities in newly constructed or substantially remodeled public restrooms; and
  • adding the installation of solar panels to the list of contractor “special skills.”

— Session Daily writer Tim Walker contributed to this report.

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