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March 15, 2019

Legal Marijuana Dies in the Senate 

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted down a bill that would make Minnesota one of just eleven states, plus the District of Columbia, to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. The bipartisan bill, S.F. 619, was jointly presented to the committee by chief author, Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) and co-author Dr. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska). Both Senators agreed that the bill provided a proactive opportunity for Minnesota to effectively regulate a commodity already in widespread use, while simultaneously benefitting from revenues generated by a hefty tax.  
Republicans on the committee disagreed that the benefits of legal marijuana outweigh the risks it brings. Opponents concentrated their criticisms on public safety statistics from other states, where cannabis has been decriminalized, that show dramatic increases in traffic accidents and deaths caused by driving under the influence of the drug.    

The 6-3, party-line vote halts any realistic opportunity for the legislature to continue the debate on marijuana legalization this year, despite several proposals moving in the Democrat-controlled House. Governor Tim Walz remains supportive of the measure but stated late Monday that he had no interest in spending more time on the issue this year, focusing instead on passing his first-ever biennial budget. 

Redistricting Constitutional Amendment Faces Critical Reception in the House

Representative Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth) faced bipartisan opposition to her proposal to create a redistricting commission that would implement certain principles to avoid politically biased legislative districts. The proposal, heard in the House Government Operations Committee on Thursday, would require a constitutional amendment, approved by voters to remove the redistricting responsibility from lawmakers and create an independent, third-party that would redraw legislative districts.  

Minnesota will redraw legislative districts in 2021 (based on the 2020 census) and supporters of the bill argued that the current process is too partisan, pointing to neighboring states, like Wisconsin, who have seen legal challenges in the court system alleging politically motivated gerrymandering.  

Both Democrats and Republicans raised concerns with the bill as it attempts to outline principles the proposed third-party should consider when drawing districts, arguing that gathering the data required for consideration would present other constitutional and privacy issues.  

The last time Minnesota redistricted was in 2010 when the plan was sent to the courts to decide after Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a proposal by the then, Republican-controlled legislature.     

Social Media Warning Bill Tabled in the Senate

A bill that would mandate mobile application developers and mobile device retailers to warn users of the alleged risks to mental health caused by regular use of social media was withdrawn from the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday after it lacked the support necessary to move forward. The bill, S.F. 1159, would require that any social media application, like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, to contain a pop-up warning whenever the application was opened by a user. Additionally, the bill would require retailers of mobile devices to present a written warning to customers and require them to sign an acknowledgment form before completing any purchase of a cell phone, tablet, FitBit, or other mobile device where social media applications can be accessed.  

Supporters of the bill argued that kids are most harmed by today’s use of social media and pointed to various studies showing consistent use of social media has led to bullying, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.  

The bill, however, received strong criticism from both sides of the political aisle. Although lawmakers recognized the various issues increased use of mobile devices has caused, committee members were critical of the procedural application of such a law, questioning its impact on businesses. Industry stakeholders were also on-hand to overview the steps many companies are already taking to raise awareness of risks inherent in mobile device use, and options they already provide to parents to control children’s access to social media.  

Minnesota would be the first state in the nation to require such a warning, although California and New Jersey are considering similar legislation.  

Vaping Ban Passed in the House

In a bipartisan, 100-25 floor vote on Thursday, the House passed H.F. 349, a bill that modifies the definition of smoking in the Clean Air Act to include carrying or using an activated electronic cigarette. The change would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in the same places as smoking, including public places, at a public meeting, in a place of employment, and in public transportation.  

Current law prohibits the use of electronic delivery devices at daycare premises, at health care facilities and clinics, in state and local government buildings, in buildings owned by a public college or university, and in certain facilities licensed by the Department of Human Services or the Minnesota Department of Health. This bill expands the prohibition.  

Proponents of the bill argued that e-cigarettes are unsafe due to unknown chemicals used in certain products. Additionally, some lawmakers believe e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking for youth – pointing to flavors and ease of concealment that has educators confiscating more products from classrooms.  

Opponents, however, pointed to examples where e-cigarettes have helped long-time smokers quit and worried that such a ban would make it harder on adults who use electronic options as switching device.  

The bill will now head to the Senate where also has bipartisan support.  

Freedom to Drive Heads to House Floor 

Gun House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) praised House lawmakers on Thursday for swiftly moving forward a bill that would allow undocumented residents to obtain a driver’s license in Minnesota. H.F. 1500 will head to the House floor after passing through its final committee on Thursday.  

Winkler, and other proponents of the bill say the bill is necessary for public safety – offering driver’s training to and proper permitting to anyone operating a motor vehicle on Minnesota roads. The “Freedom to Drive Act” has received a mix of support from industries who rely on drivers for the delivery of goods and services. But some lawmakers argue that such a measure risks rewarding people who are in the state illegally.  

The bill is expected to pass the democratically controlled House, but faces an uphill battle in the Republican Senate. 

First Deadline is Today

Today is the first committee deadline at the legislature. The first deadline is for committees to act favorably on bills in the house of origin. This first deadline is a critical step in keeping the legislation alive for the remainder of the session. Bills that do not meet this committee cut-off have little chance of revival or legislative action this year.

Important Upcoming Dates

Friday, March 29 — Committees must act favorably on bills, or companions of bills, that met the first deadline in the other body. 

Friday, April 12 — Committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills.  

April 13-April 22 — Legislative recess for Easter/Passover holidays 

Wednesday, May 1 — Major appropriation and finance bills are to be passed by the respective bodies. 

Monday, May 6 — Chairs of major appropriation and finance conference committees will receive the final budget targets. 

Monday, May 13 — Conference committees must reach an agreement and send conference committee reports to each body for a final vote. 

Monday, May 20‎ — Minnesota Legislature required to adjourn session.‎ 

Please reach out to any of the Larkin Hoffman Government Relations team members with any questions.