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Less heralded — but important! — items in the DFL Legislature’s 1,430-page, final hours bill

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Less heralded — but important! — items in the DFL Legislature’s 1,430-page, final hours bill

May 29, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Madison McVan
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Less heralded — but important! — items in the DFL Legislature’s 1430-page, final hours bill
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Minnesota Capitol. Photo courtesy House Information Services.

The 2024 legislative session ended with Republicans yelling for close to a half-hour on the House and Senate floors as DFL lawmakers passed much of their 2024 agenda in the form of a 1,430-page omnibus package, with policy and funding touching housing, transportation, energy, agriculture, taxes and labor. 

The legislation — technically the tax bill — contained changes to the state paid family and medical leave program, funding for a $109 million class action settlement, adjustments to the child tax credit and a deal on Uber and Lyft driver pay, among other labor provisions.

Other highly publicized aspects of the legislation (HF5247), which Gov. Tim Walz signed into law last week, include a ban on binary triggers, which increase a gun’s rate of fire, and increased penalties for straw purchases — i.e. when someone purchases a firearm with the intent to sell or transfer it to someone who cannot legally purchase a gun. 

Here’s a roundup of some of the lesser-known new laws included in the bill: 

Housing

Last year, the Legislature convened a working group to evaluate how to better distribute emergency rental assistance, known as the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program, which aims to prevent evictions and homelessness by issuing grants to cover rent or utility costs for low-income families. 

The omnibus bill contains a number of recommendations proposed by the working group, mostly to simplify the application process: allowing for e-signatures on documents; permitting landlords to apply for assistance on renters’ behalf; and accepting applicants’ self-described emergencies and income. 

Lawmakers also approved $8 million in one-time funding for the emergency assistance program. 

The bill directs the state Department of Labor and Industry to study and recommend whether the state building code should be updated to allow buildings up to 75 ft. tall with only one stairway. Currently, apartment buildings over three stories must have two entry/exit stairwells — but some experts say advancements in fire safety mean taller buildings could work with just one stairway. That would lower developers’ costs and open up room for more housing units while the state faces a housing supply crisis. 

Lawmakers also have their eyes on homeowners’ associations and common interest communities. A new working group will take an inventory of all of the HOAs and CICs in the state; study their organizational structure and fees; determine their impact on housing affordability and racial disparities in homeownership; and recommend whether the state should pass new laws to more strictly regulate the organizations. 

The bill also exempts the most recent comprehensive plans in the metro area from environmental review, likely bringing an end to the lawsuit blocking the Minneapolis 2040 Plan (the groups bringing the suit say they plan to fight on.) 

Transportation

A high priority for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this session was to pass a bonding bill, which funds infrastructure projects around the state. But a deal never got done — except for a special bonding system for the Iron Range — and each party blamed the other for a lack of compromise. 

There is funding for some infrastructure projects in the big omnibus, however, including $22.5 million to construct a new state patrol headquarters, a priority for Walz. 

It also allows for a red light camera pilot program in Minneapolis, 17 years after the state Supreme Court ruled a similar Minneapolis program illegal — but not “unconstitutional.” Advocates hope the change to state law to explicitly permit the program will insulate it from legal challenges, though the constitutionality may still be called into question. 

The bill also grants the Minnesota Department of Transportation more involvement in Metropolitan Council projects, especially in the early stages, or when a project is delayed more than 30 days, which is a response to the many problems plaguing the Green Line extension, aka Southwest Light Rail Train.  

Professional licensing and scope of practice

Lawmakers approved a slew of changes to professional licensing, creating new licensing requirements and oversight for behavioral analysts, veterinary technicians, speech language pathology assistants and transfer care specialists, who remove and transport dead bodies.

The new laws also allow for the creation of licensure compacts for some occupations, allowing licensed professionals in other states to more easily practice in Minnesota. The law allows for compacts for physician assistants, occupational therapists, licensed professional counselors, dentists and dental hygienists, social workers and physical therapists. 

Nurses are a notable exception to the list — despite nurses being among the most in-demand workers, Minnesota is one of a handful of states that does not participate in the nurse licensure compact, which would make it easier for out-of-state nurses to live and work in Minnesota. The Minnesota Nurses Association, the labor union for nurses, opposes the compact, arguing that it would weaken the union and diminish the standard of care for patients. 

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians may now administer more vaccines to children 6 and up — not just influenza and COVID-19 vaccines as authorized under previous laws. 

Higher education

University of Minnesota employees will have an easier path to unionization thanks to some provisions in the higher education portion of the omnibus. 

The bill also limits universities’ ability to consider an applicant’s criminal background in the admissions process. A school cannot ask about criminal history on an application, but once an applicant has received an offer of admission, the school can require the applicant to disclose any convictions within the previous five years for a violent felony or sexual assault. 

If the university then rescinds the offer of admission, it must explain why and allow the applicant to appeal. The new law also says universities are immune from lawsuits stemming from the admission of a student with a criminal history. 

The bill contains many measures aimed at students who are pregnant or parenting; it directs schools to collect data on the number of enrolled parents and pregnant students, and to designate a “navigator” for parenting students who can connect them to resources like child care and other assistance programs. 

The new law bans schools from forcing pregnant or parenting students to change majors, drop classes, participate in alternative programs or take a leave of absence. 

It also prohibits universities from withholding transcripts from students with outstanding debt; bans schools from requiring students to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of sexual misconduct proceedings; and ensures students with permanent disabilities only have to provide proof of their disability one time. 

Health care

Health insurance plans must now cover abortions, amino acid-based formula, orthotic and prosthetic devices, intermittent catheters and wigs for cancer patients. They also must cover health care services, like vaccines, when provided by a pharmacist instead of a physician. 

The bill allows nonprofit organizations and small companies to refuse abortion coverage on religious grounds.

The legislation also codifies certain standards for assisted living facilities — they must provide three meals a day, plus snacks, and provide menus one week in advance. Assisted living facilities must also offer weekly housekeeping, laundry services and reasonable assistance with transportation to and from appointments.

“Natural organic reduction” — allowing a human body to compost organically after death — is now legal following a two-year moratorium. The bill outlines licensing and other requirements for natural organic reduction facilities. 

The bill also allows pharmacists to prescribe and dispense HIV prevention medication, colloquially known as “PrEP,” and creates an Office of Emergency Services to oversee the state’s EMS system. 

Other odds and ends

Lawmakers passed the Senate’s plan to address nitrate pollution in southeastern Minnesota by funding grants for farmers to purchase new soil health equipment.

The bill also contains permitting reform for wind and solar projects, meant to speed up approval of plans for renewable energy sources. 

The Public Utilities Commission must complete an environmental impact statement — a large-scale environmental review of major projects — for all proposed carbon dioxide pipelines, which transport gas captured from ethanol plants to underground storage sites. The state will also commission a study of the environmental and human health impacts of carbon dioxide pipelines, and evaluate how effective they are at reducing carbon emissions.