Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, right, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced DFL legislative priorities at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 4. Photo by Michelle Griffith / Minnesota Reformer.
DFL legislative leaders on Tuesday announced their priorities for the session, promising abortion rights, money for schools and paid family leave, among other priorities.
Whatever direction Democrats take, slim legislative majorities mean they’ll need consensus to move bills forward. That’s especially true in the Senate, where they hold a 34-33 edge.
Passing a law to ensure access to abortion will be a top priority — it’s labeled bill number one in both chambers. Abortion rights are currently protected by a state Supreme Court precedent, but Democrats want reproductive freedom written into law.
After years of passing paid family leave in the DFL-controlled House but watching it die in the GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats will move to pass the program this year. They’re also eyeing child care tax credits totaling $3,000 per child younger than five years old, with a $7,500 cap per family.
But what wasn’t on their list was also notable: marijuana legalization, which Democrats nevertheless plan to officially unveil at a press conference Thursday morning.
“It is a priority. It’s a very big, complicated issue,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, when asked why it wasn’t on the initial agenda. “It’s a criminal justice reform issue. It’s critically important that Minnesota right some of the wrongs that have been inflicted on our population because of our prohibition policy.”
DFL leaders also made no mention of so-called Walz checks. DFL Gov. Tim Walz made a tax rebate of $2,000 per family the centerpiece of his reelection campaign, a priority that would appear to be doable given the projected $17.6 billion budget surplus.
Hortman said there will be lots of proposals considered for a tax package, including the child care tax credit and exempting Social Security income from state taxes, though she mentioned few specifics.
Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said the House and Senate will move quickly on bills that will only require the scrutiny of one committee and those with which they are familiar — bills that the Democrats have proposed in the past that were stymied under a Republican majority.
“We are going to be looking at what we can move quickly, where we have agreement and move them out to show Minnesotans we heard what they said. We know they’re tired of gridlock. They’re tired of inaction,” Dziedzic said.
Despite all the focus on social issues, lawmakers’ big job to keep government running past June 30 is to approve a two-year budget. That process typically takes the majority of the session’s 120 days.
Combating climate change is also a DFL priority. House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, said the House and Senate have the shared goal of leaving fossil fuels behind by 2040.
“Folks are asking us to move quicker towards cleaner energy that’s going to be healthier for us, and it’s going to create really good jobs here in Minnesota,” Long said.
The DFL leaders made no mention of how it plans to allocate the projected $17.6 billion surplus to various programs or state departments, but those specifics will likely come out after Walz makes his budget proposal this month and the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s February budget forecast.
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