Minnesota Senate Republicans want to come out of this legislative session with plans to avoid tax increases, improve school safety, invest in state infrastructure and fix the state's troubled vehicle licensing and registration system.
The GOP lawmakers, who hold a slim Senate majority, have three months to accomplish the goals they debuted Monday, which could become ensnared in election-year politics. While Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislators share many of the same priorities, they are advocating for different approaches.
"We know that this is a robust agenda, and it's what we intend to lead with," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said. "We know we have to reach across the aisle to Senate Democrats, we have to work with the House and in the end we have to have the governor's signature."
Although last session ended in an acrimonious court battle over legislative funding, Gazelka highlighted accomplishments, including a transportation bill, health care premium relief and Sunday liquor sales. He said he would like a similarly productive session.
This year tax changes are paramount, Republicans said. They are reworking Minnesota's tax code to conform with the federal code following last year's federal tax overhaul. They are also trying to ensure small businesses and families are not unduly burdened with tax increases.
Elder abuse and opioid addiction are two areas where there has been bipartisan momentum. Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Chairwoman Karin Housley, who has been leading hearings on elder abuse, said a bill will be introduced at the end of the week to address problems, like failure to investigate abuses. And the senators said they want to increase funding for opioid abuse treatment, prevention and after care.
Discussions about school safety and the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) will likely be more contentious.
Transportation Finance and Policy Chairman Scott Newman said the leadership team responsible for the problematic rollout of MNLARS must be replaced. Dayton has requested an additional $43 million from the Legislature to fix issues with the system, and Newman said legislators should retain some control over how it is spent.
"If we simply give the Dayton administration the $43 million that they are now looking for, without some kind of assurances that we have had a change of leadership and a reform in the manner in which the money is being spent, I cannot honestly expect a different result that what we've had to date," Newman said.
The senators presented their agenda in the same room where gun control advocates and many DFL legislators gathered about one week before to push for universal background checks and other regulations.
Republicans did not mention those bills when they talked about school safety. Instead, they emphasized increased school security.
E-12 Finance Committee Chairwoman Carla Nelson introduced a bill Monday to designate school safety funding, which school officials could spend as they see fit. She said additional armed guards or changes to building infrastructure, like bullet-resistant glass, are potential uses.
Both DFLers and Republicans have said they want to pass a public works bonding bill this session. Capital Investment Chairman David Senjem listed many areas Monday that need work: roads, bridges, wastewater infrastructure and aging college and state buildings. The $1.5 billion bonding proposal Dayton came out with, however, is far more than the House and Senate GOP majorities support.