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Gov. Tim Walz, lawmakers appear to make progress in state budget talks (copy)

Gov. Tim Walz and Republican lawmakers worked into the early morning hours Wednesday in hopes of closing a deal on a two year state budget expected to top $45 billion.

Walz and his fellow Democrats in the Minnesota House negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, until about 2:30 a.m. and then continued talks just after at 10 Wednesday morning. They have until May 20 to craft a state budget for the next two years before the Legislature must adjourn for the year as required by the state constitution.

The two sides opened final negotiations earlier this month with major differences on taxes and spending.

They said little to the assembled media Wednesday before stepping into a conference room to continue negotiating. Walz pointed to the Diet Mountain Dew in his hand — his signature beverage — and said he was on his third of the day.

The long hours and relative silence stand in contrast to negotiating sessions Sunday and Monday, which were brief and ended with scorching statements with each side casting blame on the other.

“Everyone is feeling productive and optimistic,” Walz press secretary Teddy Tschann said Wednesday.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said, “We’re still talking” as the talks broke for lunch Wednesday.

Gazelka said Tuesday evening they are making progress: “We’re working though the budget. The fact that we were there that long should say something.”

Walz and DFL lawmakers want more money for schools, health care and transportation.

Republicans who control the state Senate have held firm that they will not agree to any tax increase and want the current 2% tax on health care to expire at the end of the year as scheduled. Gazelka has been resolute in his opposition to tax increases, suggesting that an additional $100 million in spending offered by the GOP to boost schools and public safety funding could come instead from the budget surplus and reserves.

DFL leaders offered to cut spending and reduce a proposed gas tax hike from 20 to 16 cents per gallon.

The health care industry — including doctors in white coats — were a major presence around the State Capitol Wednesday. They were lobbying to keep the 2% health care tax in place, even though they and their patients are the ones who pay it. Many health care interest groups, including hospitals, want to continue paying the tax because the money goes to health care programs for people who would otherwise be without insurance. It raises about $700 million per year.

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Robin Vos creates committee to lessen barriers to adoption

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Tuesday announced the creation of a bipartisan task force that will explore legislative solutions to reduce barriers to adoption in Wisconsin.

The announcement of the bipartisan committee came as Assembly Republicans prepared to vote on Wednesday on a slate of contentious abortion bills the Senate will likely consider in June and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will likely veto.

The slate of bills has irritated Democratic lawmakers and heightened tensions between the two parties as they debate the state budget.

Legislators on Vos’ committee will be tasked with examining the termination of parental rights, identifying ways to shorten the timeline for adoptions, how to reduce the costs of adoption and increasing adoption awareness.

“We want to give our most vulnerable children every chance available to become productive members of society,” Vos said in a statement. “We also want to make adoption more accessible to families and expectant mothers.”

Vos is chair of the committee, and other members will be announced in the coming weeks.

Vos said he created the committee following previous findings from a bipartisan committee on foster care that found a large number of adoptions come from the foster care system.

According to the Department of Children and Families, 723 children were adopted in fiscal year 2018.