2021 legislative session recap: A long and winding road

By Bryan Lake

When the 2021 Minnesota legislative session began in January, the DFL-majority House and GOP-controlled Senate shared a common goal: overcoming a projected $1.3 billion deficit and assembling a state budget. They were sharply divided on how to achieve that goal, however, with Democrats calling for tax increases and Republicans opposing them. A classic legislative standoff seemed likely until the state’s fiscal fortunes suddenly changed from deficit to surplus, flipping the script on the 2021 session. In the end, overtime was required to narrowly avert a state government shutdown, but along the way the MSBA had success in several areas. 

Twists and turns

The tone of budget talks shifted in late February when an updated economic forecast showed, somewhat surprisingly, that the anticipated budget deficit had become a $1.6 billion surplus—a projection that did not include billions of dollars in federal aid that soon flowed into the state’s coffers. The additional money dramatically changed the parameters of budget negotiations. Even so, a stalemate nonetheless resulted from differing fiscal philosophies compounded by disagreements on multiple policy issues, including a number of police reform proposals. 

Finally, on May 17, the constitutionally mandated last day of the legislative session, the governor and legislative leaders announced the framework for a budget deal. But all the details still needed to be filled in, and many hotly debated policy proposals remained in play. Consequently, after legislators were called back to St. Paul for a special session on June 14, it took them until June 30—the day before the state’s new fiscal biennium began—to complete their budget work.

The MSBA agenda

The budget agreement contained funding increases for courts, public defenders, and civil legal services, a priority that topped the MSBA’s wish list for the 2021 session. Next on the agenda were a pair of bills that addressed temporary laws scheduled to sunset in February. The first was Chapter 3, which clarified a temporary court deadline suspension law that was enacted in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic. The legislation was successfully maneuvered through the House and Senate by lawyer-legislators Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview) and Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks). 

Sen. Johnson and fellow lawyer-legislator Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis) were the lead authors of HF279/SF258, which ended up being included in Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, the special session judiciary and public safety bill. The MSBA-sponsored language permanently extends another pandemic-era temporary law that allowed courts to apply the harmless error rule from the Uniform Probate Code. The temporary law expired in February, but the new law is retroactively effective to March 13, 2020.  

The MSBA’s third major initiative was HF450/SF1290, a proposal to provide court-appointed counsel to public housing tenants in breach-of-lease cases. The legislation was carried by lawyer-legislator Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights) and Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis). The House file, which had strong support, was included in the chamber’s omnibus housing bill, but the Senate companion failed to gain traction and the proposal ultimately did not survive in conference committee. 

In addition to those initiatives, the MSBA played a supportive role in two other proposals that were signed into law. The first, which prohibits drivers’ licenses from being suspended solely for unpaid fines and surcharges, was included in the transportation budget bill, Spec. Sess. Ch. 5. (Effective 1/1/22.) The second, which regulates the crime certification process for U-Visa applicants, was included in the omnibus public safety bill, Spec. Sess. Ch. 11. (Effective 7/1/21.) 

Finally, the MSBA was, as always, involved in a wide variety of other issues, often providing technical expertise to ensure that bill language functioned as intended and did not inadvertently cause problems. Many thanks are due to the MSBA members who volunteered their time for this important duty. 

Other action of interest to attorneys

The 2021 session was notable for a record-low number of bills passed, but lawmakers still managed to enact numerous new laws of interest to the legal community, including: 

Criminal sexual conduct

  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 16 and 37 requires the BCA to investigate sexual assault allegations involving members of the Minnesota National Guard. (Effective 8/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 28 provides immunity from drug and alcohol charges for victims and reporters of sexual assault. (Effective 8/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 33, 34, and 38 increase penalties for sex trafficking, hiring a prostitute, and soliciting children to engage in sexual conduct. (Effective 9/15/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 4 adopts a number of recommendations from the Criminal Sexual Conduct Statutory Reform Working Group, including a provision that addresses the “intoxication loophole” brought to light by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s recent Khalil decision. 


  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 2, 3, and 7 alter driver’s license reinstatement provisions for DWI offenders. (Effective 8/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 8, 9, and 10 modify ignition interlock provisions. (Effective 8/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 6, Art. 3 addresses the impaired operation of boats and off-road vehicles. (Effective 7/1/21.)

Family law

  • Ch. 30, Art. 10, Sec. 60 requires parties without an agreed-upon parenting time arrangement to complete a parenting education class before the initial case management conference. (Effective 8/1/21.) 
  • Ch. 30, Art. 10, Sec. 61-78 modify child support provisions. (Various effective dates.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 7, Art. 9, Sec. 5 provides for appointed counsel for parents, guardians, and custodians when a child could be removed from their care in child protection proceedings. (Effective 1/1/23.)


  • The omnibus housing bill (Spec. Sess. Ch. 8) contained a handful of provisions that modify landlord-tenant laws:
  • Art. 10, Sec. 10 makes it illegal for a tenant to misrepresent that an animal is a service or support animal; permits landlords to request documentation for service and support animals; and prohibits landlords from charging additional fees or deposits for service or support animals. (Effective 7/1/21.) 
  • Art. 10, Sec. 11 limits rent to a prorated amount when leases require tenants to move out before the last day of the month. (Effective for leases entered into on or after 9/1/21.) 
  • Art. 5 provides for a phase-out of the eviction moratorium. (Effective 7/1/21 with various timelines.) 

Misc. criminal law

  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 31 establishes new crimes for assaulting peace officers, prosecutors, judges, and correctional employees. (Effective 9/15/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 39 creates the crime of child torture. (Effective 9/15/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, 40 establishes a crime for disseminating information about a law enforcement official’s home address. (Effective 9/15/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 41 makes it a crime to trespass on the grounds of emergency shelters for sex trafficking victims and their children. (Effective 9/15/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 42 clarifies that the drive-by shooting law applies to shots fired toward a person and not just toward a building or vehicle. (Effective 9/15/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec 52 directs the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to increase the severity rankings for certain child pornography crimes. (Effective 9/15/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 3, Sec. 11 allows courts to reduce, waive, or require community service in lieu of surcharges on indigent criminal and traffic offenders. (Effective 7/1/22.
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 3, Sec. 28 allows court-appointed counsel to request interpreters for meetings held outside of court. (Effective 8/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 3, Sec. 35 establishes data and disclosure requirements related to jailhouse witnesses. (Effective 8/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 5 reforms Minnesota’s forfeiture laws. (Effective 1/1/22.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 6 clarifies and modifies crime victim notification rights. (Effective 7/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 9, Sec. 23 regulates the use of no-knock search warrants. (Effective 9/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 9, Sec. 29 requires the POST Board to develop a confidential informant model policy, which must be adopted in identical or similar form by law enforcement agencies. (Effective 7/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 9, Sec. 30 creates “sign and release warrants” that would prevent the arrest of individuals who miss court dates for certain misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses. (Effective 7/1/21 and applies to warrants issued on or after 1/1/24.)  
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 12, Art. 3, Sec. 13 creates a diversion program for active-duty military members or veterans who commit an offense as a result of service-related sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, substance abuse, or mental health conditions. (Effective 8/1/21.) 

Predatory offenders

  • Ch. 20 gives hospice providers notice of the presence of predatory offenders. (Effective 8/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 2, Sec. 11 requires predatory offender registration for offenders who commit offenses in other states that are similar to Minnesota offenses that require registration. (Effective 7/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 4, Sec. 30 creates a working group “to comprehensively assess the predatory offender statutory framework” with a report due by January 15, 2022.

Real property

  • Ch. 7 addresses equity stripping and extends foreclosure protections to tax forfeitures and contracts for deed. (Effective 7/1/21.) 
  • Ch. 9 modifies default notice provisions for reverse mortgages. (Effective 8/1/21.)
  • Ch. 28, Sec. 24 extends the Farmer-Lender Mediation Act until June 30, 2027. 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 8, Art. 3, Sec. 1 allows manufactured homes to be affixed when the home park is owned by a cooperative. (Effective 7/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 8, Art. 3, Sec. 2 modifies the process for affixing manufactured homes to real property. (Effective 7/1/21.)


  • Ch. 6 allows protection orders issued in Canada to be enforceable in Minnesota. (Effective 8/1/21.) 
  • Ch. 12 adopts the recommendations of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council. (Various effective dates.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 3, Sec. 12-25 amends various provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. (Effective 7/1/21.) 
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 7 modifies background check information provided to hiring entities that serve minors, the elderly, and disabled individuals. (Effective 7/1/21.)
  • Spec. Sess. Ch. 11, Art. 9, Sec. 20 prohibits, in most circumstances, the use of restraints on children appearing in court. (Effective April 15, 2022.)