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Regular legislative ends, special session begins

State Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) said the $46 billion biennial budget passed by the Legislature toward the end of the regular session last week enjoyed bipartisan support.

“That we got a bipartisan budget was pretty extraordinary,” Horn said in a phone interview Sunday, June 13.

The budget passed the state House of Representatives 116-31 and the state Senate 31-4.

Horn noted that some $1.75 billion in federal funds related to the COVID-19 pandemic was a factor in the budget process.

She said the budget includes no new taxes, although she acknowledged that the highway usage fee increase for trucks (which was a separate bill) is considered by some to be a tax.

As for the session’s output overall, Horn said she was pleased about two resolutions concerning voting access.

A resolution on early voting passed the Legislature for the second time and will be on the 2022 ballot as an amendment to the state constitution. Horn explained that resolutions for constitutional amendments require either passage by simple majority of two consecutive legislatures or passage by supermajority by one legislature.

Another resolution on no-excuse absentee voting passed for the first time by a simple majority.

Horn was also enthused about the passage of an expanded “bottle bill,” which increases the deposit amount from 5 to 10 cents (in 2024), expands the list of containers covered by the law, and increases the handling fee for redemption centers.

Horn said with the rapidly increasing cost of solid waste disposal and of recycling, getting heavy, often contaminated glass out of the solid waste stream is a must.

The General Assembly isn’t done. A special session began in the Senate on Tuesday, June 15, and the House convened Wednesday, June 16.

Horn said the two big items are some form of cannabis legalization and the “implementer,” which she described as setting the policies that “underpin” the budget.

There is nothing to prevent the Legislature from taking up other business during the special session.

That is what concerned state Sen. Craig Miner (R-30), who said at noon on Monday, June 14, that he and his colleagues had not seen the implementer bill (or bills) yet.

“It’s been known to be a Christmas tree,” he said, with spending requests tacked onto it.

Miner hadn’t seen the cannabis bill either. He said he has been trying to gauge the opinions and interests of his constituents on legal recreational marijuana. He said a significant number of people have indicated to him that they are in favor of some form of legalization.

But Miner said he has concerns, including: marijuana remaining illegal under federal law; the question of worker’s compensation for workplace injuries if someone involved has THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in their system; law enforcement concerns that legal pot would provide cover for illegal pot; and whether or not people will be allowed to grow marijuana for personal use.

As for the regular session, Miner said that from his perspective, “It was a year of defense rather than a year of offense.”He said because of the pandemic’s forcing meetings and public hearings online, the Legislature’s work did not get as much attention from the public as usual.

“I think a lot of this is going to be a surprise.”

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