Minnesota Democrats’ trifecta moving quickly to advance agenda – Twin Cities

Now in full control of state government, Minnesota Democrats are moving quickly to enact a sometimes controversial agenda long stymied by Republicans under divided government.

“The time for gridlock is over. The time to respond to Minnesotans is real,” Gov. Tim Walz said Jan. 31 after signing a bill guaranteeing the right to an abortion and other reproductive care.

There’s a list of other bills Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members also hope to act quickly on, including cannabis legalization, licenses for undocumented immigrants, voting rights for felons, gun laws and paid leave.

“Minnesotans wanted us to act,” said Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, after the abortion bill became law. “They voted us into the Senate majority, in part, because we told them we would preserve rights and freedoms, not take them away.”

GOP lawmakers have bemoaned their Democratic colleagues expediency, saying important bills with broad impacts are being rushed through, often to quash opposition.

“We are a deliberative body, and the majority should welcome discussion and debate on bills,” Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, said following a recent hearing about cannabis legalization when several of his proposed amendments were voted down without much consideration.

“Instead, they have stifled discussion to move as fast as they can,” Koznick said. “Many of these bills are extremely consequential to the future of Minnesota and they deserve our full attention.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman rejected the idea that legislation was moving too quickly. She noted that constituents often complain that the Legislature waits until the last minute to finish its work.

So far, the Legislature has only sent a handful of bills to Walz and several of them passed with bipartisan backing. Many other DFL priorities are moving through committees and are expected to come before the full House and Senate in the coming weeks.

“That’s such a low bar that we have for the Minnesota Legislature that four bills in January is way too fast,” Hortman said. “I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. People should be pleased the Legislature is productive and sprinkling the work throughout the entire session, not just saving it up until the end.”

Eyes on both sides

Political observers agree the new DFL trifecta of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office are moving more quickly than usual.

“They’re moving at an extraordinary pace,” said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, who noted that Democrats haven’t had total control of state government in a decade. “There’s an incredible amount of pent up demand from several wings of the party.”

Political strategist Amy Koch agrees. The former GOP Senate leader also sees positives and negatives in the pace.

“I think it is smart strategically. They’re fulfilling promises they made on the campaign trail,” Koch said. “But how can the public weigh in on these bills? The committee process isn’t supposed to just be a box you check. There’s no legislator out there drafting a bill that’s perfect right out of the gate.”

Koch and Schultz say they also worry the state’s politics has become so divided that newer lawmakers may see it as a new normal. Rather than collaboration, amendments often have become a tool, either to slow things down or just blow them up.

“We have basically turned politics into a winner-take-all system,” Schultz said. That leads to a decline in cooperation with both parties working together to solve tough problems.

“People are beholden to their base on both sides,” Koch said. “There’s extremes on both sides.”

Essentially, don’t be fooled; if Republicans were in this position, they’d likely act the same way.

“They were salivating at the prospect of a red wave,” Schultz said. “A little of this is sour grapes. It’s legitimate, but also sour grapes.”

Here’s a roundup of some of the more controversial changes that appear to be on the fast track in the House or Senate:

Abortion

Enshrining the right to an abortion and other reproductive care was one of the first priorities DFLers tackled. There are at least three other abortion-related bills working their way through both chambers with votes planned in the coming weeks.

They include measures to eliminate some abortion restrictions already on the books and protections for people who travel to Minnesota from other states to have the procedure.

Democrats say abortion rights drove voters to the polls in November and helped them win majorities in both legislative chambers and re-elect the governor.

Felon voting

A bill to restore voting rights to felons who are no longer incarcerated, but are still on probation or parole, passed the House on Thursday. It is expected to be debated in the Senate in the coming weeks and has the support of Walz and Secretary of State Steve Simon.

If it becomes law, about 55,000 felons would have their right to vote restored. Republicans criticized the proposal and noted it was the first public-safety-oriented bill to be approved by the House.

Immigrant driver’s licenses

The House has already approved legislation to allow residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status. The Senate is expected to debate the bill in the coming weeks.

Walz has been a supporter of the change since early in his political career, calling it a matter of dignity. Supporters also say it will improve traffic safety.

Opponents are worried that giving driver’s licenses to noncitizens will encourage voter fraud.

Carbon-free electricity

Walz is expected to sign legislation that will require the state’s electricity utilities to derive their energy from carbon-free sources by 2040. The measure has cleared both chambers of the Legislature with Democrats calling it essential to decreasing Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans were unsuccessful in their attempts to modify the bill. They say current technology doesn’t support the goal, which will drive up prices and lead to shortages.

Cannabis

Legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis has cleared several committees in the House and Senate. DFLers have said this is the year to legalize the drug after years of working on it.

Opponents worry the bill does not have enough safeguards to protect residents and won’t allow local leaders to dictate how and where it is sold.

Guns

Democrats have vowed to tighten Minnesota’s gun laws with eyes on stronger background checks, age limits and making it easier to take weapons from people deemed unsafe. Proponents say those are common-sense changes while opponents argue toughening those rules won’t make people safer and will punish lawful gun owners.

Paid leave

Two proposals to provide time off to workers are also moving quickly.

One would create a new system for paid leave for illness or to care for a loved one, funded by a 0.7 percent payroll tax. Employers and workers could split the cost of funding up to 12 weeks of paid time off.

The second measure would mandate workers could earn up to 48 hours in paid sick time annually.

Backers of the bills say workers shouldn’t have to chose between staying home when they’re sick and paying for essentials like food and rent. Opponents say the cost of the state-required benefits is too high.

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