Legislative Update: March 11, 2019

As lawmakers begin the tenth week of the 2019 Legislative Session, the focus will be on committee work in order to meet the first committee deadline scheduled for this Friday. The House and Senate higher education committees are no exception, with long committee agendas (see below). Evening meetings are already starting to be scheduled this week in order to meet Friday’s deadline.

Last week, the House Higher Education Finance and Policy committee heard HF 573, a bill that would fill in with state aid the missing amount of the Pell Grant for undocumented students. In 2013, Minnesota was one of several states that passed a version of the DREAM Act, the Minnesota Prosperity Act. This legislation changed state law to provide in-state tuition rates for Minnesota State and University of Minnesota undocumented students and allow them to apply for state grants. However, Pell Grants are not available to these students. This bill would change that by filling in the missing amount. Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said the intent of the bill is to provide parity and equity for students who do not have access to the federal Pell Grant. The Office of Higher Education is estimating this change would cost the state $1.6 million a year. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the higher education omnibus bill.

Also last week, Chair of the House Tax Committee Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, introduced a tax conformity bill that aligns with Governor Tim Walz’s budget proposal. This proposal comes in part as a result of the Legislature and Governor Dayton unable to come to an agreement for the state to conform to the federal tax reform law at the end of the legislative session last year. In this proposal, the starting point changes Minnesota from taxable income for individuals to federal adjusted gross income beginning in 2019. This would make Minnesota less susceptible to future federal tax law changes. Standard deductions, itemized deductions, and personal and dependent exemptions would all be maintained.

One of the high-profile issues that has seen significant bipartisan support is funding broadband development in rural Minnesota. Today, the House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division is taking up a bipartisan bill authored by Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, that asks for $35 million in 2020 and $35 million in 2021 to be appropriated to the broadband grant program. That program would leverage private investment to continue to develop high-speed internet infrastructure throughout the state. The Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee heard a companion bill authored by Senator Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, two weeks ago. Governor Walz is expected to support this legislation given that his own budget proposal called for $70 million for the broadband grant program.

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