Minnesota has guaranteed abortion rights in state law, set ambitious new clean energy goals and is about to allow unauthorized immigrants to get driver's licenses and restore voting eligibility to people released from prison.
And Democrats have controlled state government for less than two months.
Scores of other long-sought DFL policy and spending goals are racing toward reality amid a whirlwind of progressive action at the State Capitol. The breakneck pace matches enthusiasm in other states where Democrats swept control in the midterm election, as the party shifts its energy from a divided Congress to state legislatures. Squeamishness about voter pushback is seemingly absent, with Democrats saying Minnesotans sent them to St. Paul to act.
"This probably is one of the most consequential legislative sessions," said Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. "Protecting democracy, making an economy that works for all. Those things matter. Now's the time."
It's the second time Democrats have held full control of state government in the past three decades, but it's the first time they've done so with a historic $17.6 billion budget surplus on the bottom line. That number could grow on Monday, when state budget officials unveil the February economic forecast.
That level of extra funding makes it easier for Democrats to enact much of the agenda the core of their base has been wanting for decades, said Todd Rapp, a former DFL legislative staffer and campaign operative.
Democrats are rapidly pushing the most progressive agenda Rapp said he's seen, adding that DFL leaders have clarity this year on what they want to do and are intent on getting it done. He's also seen a shift in culture at the Capitol where legislators don't expect to be in the majority for long stretches of time.
"That just doesn't happen anymore," Rapp said. "I also think some of the legislators who are being elected are, quite frankly, impatient. They might think, 'I don't know if I want to be here for three or four or five terms, but I do know what I want to get done now."
Bills 'loaded up' for quick action
Walz has already signed more than a half dozen bills into law this session, including proposals to make Juneteenth a state holiday and ban discrimination based on someone's hair texture or style. Proposals are simultaneously racing through the process on other major priorities, including legalizing recreational marijuana, implementing a paid family and medical leave program and requiring sick and safe time for workers.
"It's not the first time that the DFL has had total control of the state of Minnesota, but it is the first time that they've gone with a hard-left agenda," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who served in the Legislature a decade ago when Democrats last held the trifecta of the governor's office, House and Senate.
But last time, he noted, there were more moderate Democrats from greater Minnesota in the Legislature.
"Previously there was geographic and ideological balance within the DFL party — this time there isn't," Garofalo said. "There are no moderates to slow the agenda down. That's why you're seeing so much happening so quickly."
Many bills moving quickly this session have long been teed up in the House, where Democrats have held the majority since 2019.
They have spent years working with advocates and the governor's office, holding hearings and repeatedly passing some of the measures, said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. But the bills stalled in the previously GOP-led Senate.
"All the things that the governor and the House DFL talked about on the campaign trail in 2018, we have been waiting four years to do," Hortman said. "We had a lot of things loaded up."
Minnesota is in for a productive session with two women leading the Legislature who don't care about getting credit and are making use of their full team to get bills done, Hortman said. She said she has worked with Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, for a long time and has been a "very tight team" with Walz for four years.
When Democrats last held full control of state government, the trio of Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen worked together for only two years, she said. Hortman noted House leadership then was shepherding some major changes — including legalizing same-sex marriage and funding all-day kindergarten — through the process for the first time.
This session House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said that her members are trying to work with Democrats to add their ideas to major bills moving through the process in committees, but they've been largely rejected.
"There's been the talk about wanting to work together more, but we're not always seeing that," said Demuth, who said she's also concerned about the speed that legislation is moving.
"It's less transparent for the public. Our staff, both partisan and nonpartisan, everyone is feeling that pressure. And I don't know that that is good," she said. "We need to always pause and do the right thing rather than just the fast thing."
DFL sees 'clear mandate'
While some argue Democrats are moving too fast, Walz said Minnesotans might feel stability and comfort in government's ability to pass things such as tax conformity, a bipartisan issue that often got tangled in political negotiations under divided government.
They are operating in a "very unsettled" political environment, with the recent Supreme Court rulings on issues such as abortion and former President Donald Trump's time in office, Walz said.
"There's a strong desire to deliver and get the work done," Walz said. "I think there's a strong desire to show a functional government."
New DFL legislators from suburban swing districts said they are not concerned about the pace of Democratic-backed bills moving through the chambers.
"I came here to work," said Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights, and she knew it was going to be "full speed ahead."
As she courted voters last year, Gustafson said a lot of people were tired of inaction following a session where little got done amid partisan fighting. People are happy to see lawmakers pass bills, she said, noting that along with headline-grabbing legislation they are doing cleanup work left unfinished last year.
Another swing-district Democrat, Sen. Judy Seeberger of Afton, said that when they return to the campaign trail in the next election season, DFLers will be able to show "we rolled up our sleeves and we got to work."
"What we're doing is exactly what the voters asked us to do. These issues that we're working on and acting on are issues that are important to voters," Seeberger said. "By giving us the trifecta, by putting us in the majority, it was a clear mandate."