Paid leave, abortion rights, child care and climate change — MN Democrats outline session focus

Facing a mountain of legislative requests, Minnesota Democrats highlighted a dozen priorities Wednesday that they hope to tackle during the legislative session that opened this week.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members now control the House, Senate and the governor’s office, a trifecta they want to use ambitiously to pass a long list of things they say were stalled by Republicans during divided government.

Top issues include codifying abortion rights in state law, paid family leave and sick time, more affordable child care and health care as well as expanding voting rights.

“In short, our priorities are Minnesotans’ priorities,” Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said during a Wednesday news conference. “It’s what people across the state told us they want us to do.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman echoed that sentiment, saying that DFL priorities previously hit a “legislative brick wall” when Republicans had control of the Senate. Democrats won a one-seat majority in that chamber in November.

“I hope and expect we will make significant progress this session,” Hortman said. “(Voters) elected a new DFL majority to get things done.”

Republican leaders quickly characterized Democrats’ priorities as “controversial and divisive” saying they did not represent the topics that already have bipartisan support like cutting taxes.

“Rather than getting to work on balancing the budget and giving the massive surplus back to the people, they are rushing through their own top priorities without bipartisan support,” Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, the Senate Minority Leader and Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, the House Minority Leader, said in a joint statement.

“Republicans will continue to bring the voice of the people to the table by fighting for tax cuts for the middle class, support funding for public safety, keeping energy affordable, and a focus on student achievement,” their statement said.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 12 things on DFLers’ list:

Reproductive freedom

Enshrine abortion rights and bodily autonomy in state law and possibly the state constitution. This is expected to be one of the first bills passed by the Legislature.

Paid leave

Ensure all workers have access to paid family leave and can earn sick time. A universal program would cost about $1 billion a year and likely be funded through a new payroll tax.

Climate change

Transition the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2040 and make it easier for residents to buy and use electric vehicles.

Prescription drugs

Prohibit price gouging for life-saving medicines such as insulin, asthma inhalers and EpiPens.

Child care and preschool

Establish a new child tax credit of $3,000 a year per child, capped at $7,500, to help pay for child care. Expand options for affordable care and preschool.

Public safety

More money to hire and retain police, new resources to expedite criminal investigations and crime prevention efforts to reduce gun violence.

Education

More funding for general school operations, increased money for special education, universal meals for students and improved access for students to mental health services.

Housing

Increase affordable housing options and grow home ownership.

Worker protections

Improve job safety and ensure wages and benefits are fair.

Infrastructure

Approve the local match for the federal infrastructure bill. Pass a capitol projects bill to build and repair state infrastructure.

Elections

Automatic voter registration, restore voting rights to felons who’ve served their sentences, close campaign finance loopholes.

Health care

Expand access to MinnesotaCare, the state’s program for the working poor, to establish a public health care option.

Specifics, costs still to come

Democratic leaders did not offer a lot of information about the specifics of the bills that would tackle their priorities or what they may cost, noting the session just started and there is likely to be a lot of competing proposals.

The dozen topics leaders highlighted Wednesday omitted a few obvious other priorities Democrats have said they want to address this session including: legalizing adult-use cannabis, passing the Equal Rights Amendment and allowing immigrants to get a driver’s licenses even if they are here without the proper documentation.

The state’s $17.6 billion budget surplus will make it easier for Democrats to launch some of their biggest priorities, but it isn’t a blank check. About $12 billion of the surplus is one-time money that’s already in the bank and the rest is forecast to come in over the coming two-year budget cycle.

Inflation could eat up some of the ongoing revenue so lawmakers need to be cautious about ongoing costs.

“These should not surprise anyone. These are priorities we have been putting forward for years,” said Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, the House Majority Leader. “We’ve been listening to what Minnesotans have asked us to do. Minnesotans have rewarded us with majorities in both (chambers) and are asking us to deliver. We will deliver.”

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