ST. PAUL, Minn. — The insulin and voter privacy bills were the first bills slated for floor action since the session began two weeks ago. The measures were expected to pass easily Wednesday night given the Democrats' comfortable majority in the House. The two gun control bills were due for votes Thursday, the lawmakers said at a news conference.
"Some things can't wait," said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley.
The Democratic-backed gun bills are also expected to pass but they're aimed more at the November elections, given the adamant opposition to them in the Republican-controlled Senate, where leaders don't plan to give them votes. House Speaker Melissa Hortman said that she wasn't hugely hopeful about the voter privacy bill either, but that it was important to pass it ahead of Minnesota's Super Tuesday presidential primary next week.
But they still see a potential for compromise with the Senate on the insulin bill, which includes major elements of a Senate GOP proposal. Insulin affordability is the biggest leftover piece of business from the 2019 session, when the House passed an insulin bill but a compromise with the Senate fell apart in the final hours.
Rep. Michael Howard, of Richfield, lead author of the Democratic insulin bill, said he hopes the naming of Sen. Scott Jensen, a physician and moderate Republican from Chaska, as the chief sponsor of the competing Senate GOP version is a signal that Republicans want to move forward.
The main stumbling block is how much insulin manufacturers should have to pay. Hortman and Howard said the industry should be held responsible for creating the problem of soaring insulin prices and then profiting from it. Republicans say they want a less punitive approach.
The House rushed the voter privacy bill because the state will hold its first presidential primary since 1992 on Tuesday. Minnesota doesn't require voters to register by party. But, under the current rules, lists of presidential primary voters and their party preferences must be provided to the all of the state's major parties, which can use them as they please.
Many residents — including nonpartisan government workers, employees at tax-exempt nonprofits, judges and clergy — have said they may not vote in the primary because of the possibility that their preferences could become public, or at least known to the parties. The bill would prevent the parties from using the voter information for anything but validating the results.
Hortman said they're hoping public pressure on Senate Republicans might overcome the opposition of that chamber's chief gatekeeper on voting issues, GOP Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who chairs an elections committee and says the privacy bill isn't needed.
"I don't think I'm super optimistic at the moment that there's going to be a meeting of the minds," Hortman said.
The gun bills due for votes Thursday would mandate universal background checks for gun transfers and enact a "red flag" law that would allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be an immediate threat to other people or themselves.
Hortman pointed out that Florida, which has a Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature, enacted a red flag law and has used it around 3,500 times. She said voter concern about gun violence was one of the top issues that helped Democrats take control of the Minnesota House in 2018, when senators were not up for election.
"The public is demanding very clearly that we take action," the speaker said.
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz told reporters at a separate event that data from other states show that the two gun proposals save lives.
""I think the pressure in an election year, especially after the House does this, is going to encourage the Senate, and I would encourage them, go ahead and bring it up," he said.