Minnesota House Democrats on Wednesday pledged to use their newfound majority to push progressive policies on issues ranging from health care costs to paid family leave and gun control.
The package of 10 proposals closely mirrors priorities touted by DFL candidates during the 2018 campaign.
“We want to make our state work better for all of us, no matter where you live, what you look like or anything else that’s set up to divide us,” House Majority Whip Liz Olson, D-Duluth, said at a news conference.
The policy rollout comes as lawmakers return to a State Capitol shaped by new political dynamics, such as a divided Legislature and a new administration. State leaders from both parties, including Gov. Tim Walz, spent the opening days of the session outlining their priorities, setting the stage for some of the biggest policy and funding fights ahead.
Some of the most high-profile DFL proposals, such as stricter gun laws and moving toward universal health care through a MinnesotaCare buy-in, are expected to face opposition in the Senate, where the GOP holds a one-vote majority. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, whose caucus outlined its own priorities Tuesday, said he was glad to see both parties “hit the ground running,” even if they don’t agree.
“We may not see eye to eye on everything, but both parties have some good ideas, and at the very least, good intentions,” the Nisswa Republican said, citing health care, child care and mental health as issues the GOP wants to address. “The legislative process is perfectly designed to vet all of our ideas, and the best ones will rise to the top.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the proposals. Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said Minnesotans should be concerned that Democrats are trying “to take your freedoms, to take your money, to take your guns and to take your children” by forcing them into state-backed early educational care.
Miller said Minnesotans want safety and better futures for their children, but they “don’t want people telling them how to do it and government coming in and intruding on their lives.”
Agendas unveiled by House Democrats and Senate Republicans this week do offer some similarities. Both caucuses identified lowering the cost of health care and expanding access to child care and education as top priorities. But they offer starkly different approaches to tackling the issues.
The first 10 bills unveiled by House DFL leaders also include curbing prescription drug price increases through civil penalties for “unconscionable” spikes, doubling down on early education and teacher recruitment, expanding rural broadband access, cracking down on employee wage theft and broadening the legal definition of sexual harassment.
Some of the policies would require new spending. A bill to provide all workers with paid family and medical leave, as well as sick time, would require a new 0.31 percent payroll contribution from both employers and employees. Supporters said the cost, which they likened to a cup of coffee, was a small price to pay for the benefits.
DFL leaders did not specify a total projected cost for the package or how they would pay for other top priorities.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said it was too soon to say whether increased taxes would be needed or if the state’s budget surplus could be used.
“Clearly money is required to make things work. But the big discussion about education funding, health care funding, that will really start in earnest in February when we see what the governor has planned and what the state has to say about where we are fiscally,” Hortman said.
Republicans criticized the lack of funding sources identified by DFL.
“If you’re not going to pay for this through surplus, then you’re going to pay for this through increased taxes,” Miller said. “So small businesses, farmers’ young families, middle-income families, look out, they’re coming after you to pay for all of this agenda.”
House Deputy Republican Leader Anne Neu,, of North Branch, said Democrats’ health care proposal would needlessly raise the price of care for Minnesotans.
Hortman emphasized that the agenda is just an initial snapshot of DFL goals heading into the two-year session.
“The way the Legislature works is we start with chunks of clay. These bills are introduced, and we sculpt all session,” Hortman said. “What the sculpture will look like at the end of session, that is the work of the session, and that is where we will really be listening and open to the suggestions Republicans have.”
The DFL’s legislative blueprint came hours after Walz took his first executive action, signing an executive order creating a “One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity,” of which he will be chairman.
The council, which will include relevant state agency commissioners, will “develop a long-range plan to identify barriers to success, metrics for measuring progress, and recommendations to achieve the council’s goals,” according to the executive order.
“Disparities in Minnesota, including those based on race, geography and economic status, keep our entire state from reaching its full potential,” Walz said.
Like the DFL agenda, Walz’s ambitions will meet significant obstacles. Despite much discussion and new money spent, educational gaps between whites and people of color have remained persistent.