ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers plowed into the night Thursday as they sought to finalize deals on $1 billion in construction authorization, a budget bill and tax cuts.
They were up against a Sunday deadline to pass all remaining bills, though the quickening pace of deal-making suggested an earlier election-year exit was possible. Legislators reached deals on legislation to legalize medical marijuana, moved to curb the lottery’s expansion into online gambling and pushed first-ever electronic cigarette restrictions to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.
“If you think these are harmless or the addiction to nicotine is harmless, think again,” said Democratic Rep. Laurie Halverson of Eagan before the 93-35 vote on a bill that prohibits sales of e-cigarettes to minors and bans their use in government buildings, on school grounds and at day cares. It was short of the full indoor ban some backers, especially Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato, wanted.
Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa called it a “government gone wild” response to an issue for which the science hasn’t fully determined the health impact of chemical vapors the e-cigarettes emit.
Many of the big bills were in a holding pattern as legislative leadership negotiated over a construction project that Dayton and many lawmakers deemed critical.
The $846 million plan requires a three-fifths majority to pass, so Republican votes were essential in the Democratic-led Legislature.
As it stood Thursday afternoon, the bill includes several Mankato-area projects, including $14.5 million for Mankato’s civic center, making its seventh serious attempt at funding. The bill also fully funds two St. Peter projects: $56.3 million for the Minnesota Security Hospital and $7.41 million for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
However, it leaves out the $7.47 million South Central College renovations and maintenance work, though it does include $25.8 million for a clinical sciences building at Minnesota State University. The list of higher education projects hews closely to the state’s internal rankings, which placed SCC’s project well below MSU’s.