By – Jeff Tollefson, CEO, MnTech

Headshot of Jeff Tollefson, MnTech
Jeff Tollefson, President & CEO, MnTech

By statute, the 2024 session of the Minnesota Legislature comes to an end this Monday, May 20, leaving just three more sessions in both the House and Senate to address critical issues facing our state. With very little time left and much to do, it will be interesting to see what legislation makes it across the finish line before Monday’s deadline.

It’s nearing 11:30 pm on Thursday, May 15th, and I’m still watching the live feed of the House floor as debates continue on HF5363 which modifies Minnesota’s Paid Family Leave legislation. Lengthy floor speeches by Republicans are urging a tapping of the breaks as they highlight concerns regarding Minnesota’s readiness to implement, the plan’s projected cost to businesses and taxpayers, and are comparing it to the botched rollout of MNsure, Minnesota’s much maligned health care insurance marketplace. While valid points are being raised, lengthy floor speeches have become the norm as the minority party seeks to slow down the legislative push of the majority trifecta and use Monday’s deadline as a means for extracting concessions.

I bring this up as it is indicative of the increased partisanship we’ve seen in recent weeks, especially in the wake of the arrest of Senator Mitchell (DFL District 47) three weeks ago on burglary charges. While Sen. Mitchell was removed from her committee posts, she remains a voting member of the Senate, maintaining the DFL’s thin 34-33 voting majority.

The increased partisanship is concerning given the importance of passing a bonding bill this year. Bonding bills, which are for capital improvement projects across the state, require a 60% supermajority in each chamber for the state to take on debt in the form of bonds. Accordingly, Republican support will be necessary if a bonding bill is to be passed this session. Republicans want Democrats to drop the proposed state Equal Rights Amendment among other concessions as part of the price for GOP votes on the public works package. The ERA amendment would be among the nation’s most expansive protections of abortion and LGBTQ rights if approved this session and then by state voters on the 2026 ballot.

In addition to the bonding bill, other major unfinished legislation includes cannabis law revisions, sports betting, and ride share regulation, among others. Conference committees have been putting in long hours trying to resolve policy differences and spending amount variances in an effort to get omnibus bills passed before Monday’s deadline. Rest assured, it will be a sprint to the finish with lots of midnight sessions like the one we’re experiencing tonight.

Here are some updates on a few of the legislative initiatives affecting our tech community for which we’ve been advocating and/or voicing concerns:

HF3492 / SF4295 – This is a follow-up to the Computer Science Education Advancement Act MnTech helped pass last session and calls for $8 million of funding for CS educator training and overall capacity building. The bill passed through appropriate House and Senate committees, but when the supplemental omnibus education finance bill was released, there was no additional funding for computer science initiatives.

At a time when Minnesota continues to be last in the country in terms of student access to computer science education, it’s extremely frustrating and disappointing to see this important segment of STEM education continue to be ignored. As we approach the 2025 legislative session, it will be important for our business and tech community to have an even stronger voice at the capitol on this issue and MnTech looks forward to galvanizing additional support in the coming months.

HF2309 / SF2915 – The core elements of the MN Consumer Data Privacy Act authored by Rep. Elkins was approved today as part of the commerce omnibus bill and likely on its way to adoption into law. While we would have preferred to not have Minnesota adopt its own unique data privacy law and have a single federal statute, that unfortunately is not the case, and companies will now need to look at some of the unique provisions of MN’s law (e.g. geolocation definitions) as they continue to adapt to new data privacy requirements. All in all, it’s an acceptable bill and we’re grateful for Rep. Elkins listening to industry concerns and modifying his bill as a result.

HF2257 / SF2810 – While supportive of the intent of the Age-Appropriate Design Code bill in protecting kids from harmful online content, the bill’s broad reach includes websites that are “reasonably likely to be accessed” by children under the age of 18. We believe this is an overly inclusive standard that will subject lots of websites and platforms to the bill’s requirements. Businesses subject to this broad and subjective definition are required to complete a Data Protection Impact Assessment for every online service, product, and feature that kids under the age of 18 are “reasonably likely to access.” We raised our objections and testified in opposition to the bill’s passage.

Despite not meeting committee action deadlines, the bill’s author tried to introduce key components of her bill as an amendment to the Consumer Data Privacy Act in the commerce omnibus bill last week. Thankfully, she was forced to ultimately withdraw her amendment and this legislation will not move forward.

HF3456 / SF3721 – This potentially problematic legislation states no provider of services (e.g. IT consulting firms, contractors) can restrict or prohibit in any way a business customer from directly or indirectly soliciting or hiring an employee of that service provider. MnTech testified in opposition at the Judiciary Finance & Civil Law Committee hearing on March 5th and shared the impact this would have on IT consulting and contract-to-hire firms.

In working with the bill’s author, Rep. Greenman, she finally agreed to amend her bill last week to carve out tech training providers. The specific exemption language she agreed to reads as “This section does not apply to workers providing professional business consulting for computer software development and related services who are seeking employment through a service provider with the knowledge and intention of being considered for a permanent position of employment with the customer as their employer at a later date.” It remains to be seen whether this remains in the omnibus labor bill.

HF4182SF4262 – This bill would have expanded the ability of municipalities to assess a franchise tax on all broadband service providers (not just cable companies) leading to higher costs for businesses and consumers and slowing down progress being made in broadband deployment across the state. By including wireless service providers in this definition, this act violates federal law as the FCC is the sole regulator of wireless spectrum and services. MnTech testified in opposition at the 3/11 House Commerce Finance & Policy hearing and this bill ultimately did not move forward in either chamber.

HF2021 / SF3711 – This “net neutrality” bill was introduced again this year and we can see pros and cons on each side of the issue. In the end, we believe this should be a federal issue, rather than a patchwork state-by-state approach, as the internet doesn’t stop at state lines. State and local efforts to regulate an open internet can harm broadband investment at a time when historic levels of federal funding is being distributed alongside unprecedented private investment. We don’t wish to see this pass in Minnesota and prefer to let the FCC and other federal agencies continue to take the lead. That said, it is included in the House commerce omnibus policy bill and likely will be enacted.

HF4929 / SF4983 – This modifies current statutes to ensure that qualified large-scale data centers can continue to benefit from sales tax exemptions on information technology equipment and computer software purchased in the building or refurbishing of qualified data centers. MnTech has long been supportive of such tax exemptions and we’re pleased this continues to be part of the omnibus tax bill.

In closing, there will definitely be more fireworks ahead as the minority party continues to push back against the force of the majority rule. Will there be enough bipartisan spirit to pass a bonding bill? Who knows. With all 134 House seats up for grabs this November, political posturing often takes the place of common sense and collaboration, increasing my fear that Monday ends on a sour note. Should be an interesting weekend!