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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

2018 Legislative Session Review

In a session short on accomplishments, the MSBA agenda fared well at the Capitol

The 2018 Minnesota legislative session concluded—depending on your view—in disagreement, dysfunction, or both. The roots of the breakdown between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled House and Senate began to grow during the 2017 session, which ended with Dayton using his line-item veto authority to eliminate funding for the Legislature. GOP legislative leaders responded by suing him on constitutional grounds. Although he prevailed in court, Dayton relented and signed a bill in the early days of the 2018 session that appropriated funds for House and Senate operations. Order was restored at the Capitol, but any hint of bipartisan cooperation was gone by the time the Legislature adjourned on May 20. 

Lawmakers had three major priorities this year: (1) modify Minnesota’s tax code in response to recent federal tax changes; (2) divvy up funds from a projected budget surplus; and (3) pass a bonding bill, as is tradition during even-numbered years. Dayton reluctantly signed a bonding bill (Chapter 214) but vetoed an omnibus budget bill and two versions of a tax bill. In addition, the governor adamantly rejected the idea of calling a special session, which only he can do. Consequently, much of the major work of the 2018 session was left undone. 

Unfinished business

Although hundreds of proposals did not get across the finish line this year, several that came close are worth noting because they are likely to be recycled during the upcoming biennium. For example, the vetoed omnibus budget bill contained a cluster of changes related to driving:

  • enhancing penalties for driving without a license; 
  • modifying post-DWI license reinstatement procedures; 
  • expanding the prior convictions that enhance an offense to first-degree driving while impaired; and
  • prohibiting from serving as school bus drivers anyone who receives a stay of adjudication for a disqualifying offense.
  • Additionally, the vetoed budget bill contained multiple policy changes for sex-related offenses:
  • requiring written justification for stays of adjudication in felony criminal sexual conduct matters; 
  • prohibiting peace officers from having sexual relations with persons in custody; 
  • repealing the marital rape exception; 
  • enhancing penalties for certain child pornography crimes; 
  • eliminating the fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct exclusion for intentionally touching another person’s clothed buttocks; and
  • broadening the definition of “position of authority.”

In addition to the items lost in the omnibus budget bill, there were a few other notable pieces of legislation that received significant attention but did not get enacted. HF390 would have created gross misdemeanor penalties for interfering with public transit or obstructing traffic on an airport roadway. Dayton vetoed that bill, and he also vetoed SF3463, which would have created liability for trespassing on critical infrastructure and recruiting or educating individuals to trespass on or damage critical infrastructure. Dayton never got a chance to act on HF4459, which would have eliminated the “severe and pervasive” standard for sexual harassment claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The bill advanced to the House floor but did not move in the Senate. Finally, several gun control bills failed to get traction in either chamber. 

The MSBA agenda

Despite the difficult operating environment at the Capitol, the MSBA managed to have a successful session. Several MSBA-supported initiatives became law, including Ch. 103, which was drafted by the Business Law Section in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of State. The new law modernizes Minnesota’s business law statutes. The chief authors were lawyer-legislators Rep. Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove) and Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud). Various effective dates. 

Chapter 116 was a successful proposal from the MSBA’s Construction Law Section. Under the new law, the statute of limitations for injuries to property during construction will not be triggered until substantial completion, termination, or abandonment of the project. This will allow parties to avoid unnecessary litigation when they agree that problems will be fixed during a later stage of the project. The lead authors were Rep. Smith and fellow lawyer-legislator Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson). Effective for causes of action accruing on or after 5/9/18.

Also signed into law were a trio of bills supported by the Family Law Section. Chapter 118 provides that a change in law is considered a substantial change in circumstances for purposes of child support modifications. Effective 8/1/18. Chapter 127 allows joint petitions for custody, parenting time, and child support. Effective 8/1/18. And Chapter 213, the Revisor’s bill, corrects a child support modification math error that is part of the 2016 child support changes that take effect in August of this year.

Unfortunately, a pair of proposals from the MSBA’s Probate & Trust Law Section were lost in the vetoed tax bills. The first would have attributed a deceased spouse’s ownership to a surviving spouse for purposes of the farm and small business estate tax exemption. The second would have allowed farm couples to link separate trusts for agricultural homestead purposes.  

Also lost for the year was HF3312, a bill supported by the Health Law Section that would modify authorization guidelines for the release of health records. The bill stalled after passing through one committee in the House. It was not granted a hearing in the Senate. 

Sometimes failure is success, however, as in the case of a pair of bills opposed by the MSBA that did not become law: HF2699 and HF3436. The former, which would have raised the parenting time “floor,” passed a committee in the House but did not move in the Senate. The latter, which would have restricted the use of cameras in courtrooms, was opposed by the MSBA on separation of powers grounds. The proposal was included in an omnibus bill that passed the House but did not reach the governor’s desk.

 

Notable new laws
Civil commitment
  • Ch. 194 modifies civil commitment discharge provisions for mentally ill and dangerous individuals and sex offenders. Effective 5/30/18.
Criminal law
  • Ch. 106 creates a crime for misrepresenting an animal as a service animal. Effective 8/1/18.
  • Ch. 123 criminalizes interference with point-of-sale terminals. Effective 8/1/18. 
  • Ch. 183 fully incorporates the operation of ATVs, motorboats, and snowmobiles into DWI laws. Effective 8/1/18.
  • Ch. 195 modifies controlled substance schedules. It also replaces the “hazardous substance” DWI crime with the crime of driving while knowingly under the influence of an “intoxicating substance.” Effective 8/1/18.
Financial
  • Ch. 111 protects from creditors up to $25,000 held in health savings accounts or medical savings accounts. Effective 8/1/18.
  • Ch. 161 allows broker-dealers and investment advisers to disclose information and delay transactions when they suspect financial exploitation of older or vulnerable adults. Effective 8/1/18.
  • Ch. 174 prohibits the assignment of military pay and benefits. Effective for contracts entered into on or after 8/1/18.
Real property
  • Ch. 117 clarifies the rights of renters in buildings that are being converted to common interest communities. Effective 8/1/18.
Uniform acts
  • Ch. 176 is the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts, which, among other things, establishes remote online notarization. Effective 1/1/19.
  • Ch. 192 is the Revised Uniform Athletes Agents Act. Effective 8/1/18.
Workers Compensation
  • Ch. 185 adopts recommendations from the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council and allows retired Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals judges or retired Administrative Law Judges to fulfill quorum requirements on the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals. Various effective dates. 

 

BRYAN LAKE is the MSBA’s lobbyist. He has worked with members and staff to promote and protect the MSBA’s interests at the state Capitol since 2009.

 

Editor’s note

The full text of new chapters of law noted in this article can be found at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?biennium=90 

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