ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Top Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature on Wednesday announced a sweeping agenda of progressive policies they hope to achieve with full control of state government, promising party unity and quick action.
"We're aligned on our values and our priorities and we're ready to work hard and work quickly to meet the needs of Minnesotans," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. "We're ready to build a state that works better for everyone."
During a news conference, DFL leaders unveiled a "representative sample" of their priorities this session, now that their legislative majorities create a path with less resistance than years past when Republicans led the Senate. One of the first bills likely to pass will be codifying abortion rights. Legislation is already scheduled for a hearing Thursday.
Democrats credit the concern about the future of abortion access in a post-Roe v. Wade world with their victories up and down the ballot in Minnesota during November's election, sweeping all statewide offices and winning a trifecta for the first time in a decade.
"We know that the makeup of Supreme Courts at the state and federal level change," Hortman said of the bill, noting that abortion rights are currently protected by a state Supreme Court ruling. "And we think it is important to have that right enshrined in Minnesota statute and that is the legislature's prerogative."
Other top proposals include a package to expand access to the ballot box with automatic voter registration, restoring the right to vote for people with felony convictions and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
Leaders also highlighted passing paid family and medical leave, setting a benchmark for clean energy by 2040, and creating a new child care tax credit of $3,000 for families with children under age five, capped at $7,500 per household.
The latter will help Minnesota's workforce woes, said House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. The state has a low unemployment rate, but many jobs left unfilled. There were 210,000 vacancies in October, according to the most recent data available.
"That will make a real impact in people's pocketbooks and their ability to get to work. It'll make sure that we're getting that job market turning again," Long said.
"We don't want to wait to pass everything in May," Dziedzic said. "We are going to be looking at what can move quickly where we have agreement and move them out."
Republicans in the minority have little say over the agenda, but they can be vocal against proposals. In a joint statement GOP leaders Rep. Lisa Demuth and Sen. Mark Johnson called the DFL ideas "controversial and divisive."
"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," the legislators said.
The one-seat DFL majority in the Senate will have to be in lockstep on key issues or it could endanger their passage. Sen. Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, pledged unity and said she will work closely with Hortman and Long in the House to advance their likeminded goals.
Some bills can move faster than others. One of the most complicated tasks this session will be finalizing the details of the next two-year budget, which will total more than $50 billion. Lawmakers also have an unprecedented
Notably missing from leaders' one-page outline of priorities is legalizing recreational marijuana,but stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate at the time. Hortman assured that it is still a priority, and on Thursday the legislation's author will hold a news conference to highlight it.
"It is a criminal justice reform issue," Hortman said. "It is critically important that Minnesota right some of the wrongs that have been inflicted on our population because of our prohibition policy."
for more features.