Minnesota remains the only state with a divided Legislature, and the stark political contrast between the House and Senate was on display as the two sides debut their top bills for the session.

From COVID-19 response to election changes, the two chambers are rolling out early measures that show differing visions for the state.

Many of the House Democrats' top priorities for the session are focused on additional aid for Minnesotans during the pandemic, including housing and food assistance, as well as funding for schools and child-care programs. Meanwhile, several of the Senate Republicans' top bills aim to limit DFL Gov. Tim Walz's emergency powers.

"What you see in this package is a focus on helping Minnesotans get what they need to get through COVID-19," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said during a news conference Wednesday on top priorities. She said the Senate bills include attacks against Walz and "ideological proposals that have failed repeatedly."

While Senate Republicans expect to do a full presentation of their priorities next week, the first 10 bills they introduced this session depict some of their goals.

Walz recently allowed bars, restaurants and some other venues to reopen with limits, after he ordered them to stop indoor service to prevent the spread of the virus. The first bill that Senate Republicans introduced would allow businesses to operate as long as they meet certain requirements, such as having a COVID-19 preparedness plan.

Another top Senate measure would eliminate the governor's ability to use executive authority over schools in altering schedules, ordering closures or curtailing activities.

The two sides also touched on the civil unrest over the summer in their early bills, but in very different ways. A House bill would create a disaster assistance program to help people hurt economically by the unrest with expenses not covered by insurance. The Senate measure would change the definition of a state-declared disaster to specifically exclude civil unrest from the list of catastrophes.

Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044