House Democrats said they will make young Minnesotans a top priority when the Legislature convenes next Tuesday, drawing a sharp election-year contrast with a GOP blueprint that emphasized tax cuts and school choice.
The House DFL offered its list of priorities Thursday, a few weeks after Senate Republican leaders presented their own policy goals. The two plans outline the contours of the policy debates that will play out in the coming months as the two parties battle for control of the Legislature in November.
The opening agenda rolled out at the Capitol gave little hint of compromise, intended instead as a statement of principles and changes Democrats would make with full control of the House and Senate, from paid family and medical leave to gun regulations.
“Whether it’s this year, next year, two years from now, this is the future of the state … We are committed to playing the long game until it happens,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said of the DFL’s “2020 Minnesota Values Plan.”
Improving education topped the list of DFL goals, with lawmakers saying they want to focus on a strong start in school for all Minnesotans and reducing the achievement gap between white students and students of color. A bill to expand early childhood education, child care assistance and prenatal services was the first that House Democrats introduced last year. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, suggested that some additional education funding could come from the state’s projected $1.3 billion surplus.
“The place we should spend that money is the place that it will make the difference over a lifetime for a Minnesotan,” she said.
Another priority on Democrats’ list is reducing prescription drug prices and creating an affordable insulin program for diabetics who can’t afford the drug, an issue that has left Democrats and Republicans at loggerheads after months of closed-door negotiations since the end of the 2019 session.
Paid family and medical leave, safe time for domestic abuse victims and earned sick time for workers are also needed to prevent people from losing jobs because they have to care for a family member or themselves, Democrats said.
The final pillar in the DFL’s values plan is broad: Creating safe and inclusive communities. That would include a requirement that all the electrical energy generated for the state come from carbon-free sources such as wind and solar power, setting up a battle with Republicans who see the plan as unrealistic.
Democrats also plan to press again for new gun legislation, including criminal background checks for all gun sales and a red flag law that would allow authorities to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others. Republicans have raised concerns about due process and argued that the state should focus instead on enforcing existing gun laws.
Another significant battle could come over bonding, or state borrowing for major building and infrastructure projects. The state has the capacity to borrow $3.5 billion, said Rep. Fue Lee, of Minneapolis, vice chairman of the House capital investment committee. That’s significantly more than Walz proposed and what Republicans want. Hortman said they will wait to get the updated February state economic forecast before determining the exact size of their proposal.