The second year of the 91st Minnesota Legislative Session opened Feb. 11, with a bit of fanfare and a long “to do” list.
Certain things on the list will be controversial: Legalizing recreational marijuana, changing gun laws to be more strict or less intrusive, and considering a constitutional amendment to require quality public education for all. Other business, such as approving a bonding bill, is more routine.
And, because this is the shorter session – the legislature must adjourn by May 18 – there’s not a lot of time to get things done.
Lawmakers of both parties, along with Gov. Tim Walz, should take action as soon as possible to address the excessive cost of insulin, on which diabetics are reliant to stay healthy and alive.
Some Minnesotans must pay more than $500 for a month’s supply of insulin, a cost out of reach for many without insurance or those with high out-of-pocket deductibles. DFLers and Republicans agree action is necessary but they continue to hold tight to competing solutions. Compromise and action regarding insulin costs should be an early priority.
Some DFLers plan to introduce legislation in the early days of the session, including legalizing recreational marijuana. Republicans leaders have stated their opposition.
Both parties may pursue gun-related proposals. Many DFLers support “red flag” laws, which would allow law enforcement to remove weapons from a person deemed a threat to himself or others. Expanding background checks is another proposal that may gain ground this session. Republicans have opposed more gun restrictions.
The biggest and most substantial decision facing legislators this year will be the biennial bonding bill. More than $5 billion in projects was requested from the state’s municipalities, educational institutions and others for inclusion in the 2020 borrowing bill. Gov. Walz has already introduced plans that call for $2 billion in bonds. Projects range from upgrading water treatment facilities, updating and modernizing college buildings, repairing fire and police stations, and $210 million for bridge and local road projects. Several affordable housing initiatives have been announced, to fund programs to address the needs of the homeless and provide quality housing for lower-income families.
These initiatives carry big price tags and will generate spirited debate.
Republicans say they would aim for a bonding package of about $1 billion – half of the governor’s proposal.
The legislature convenes with a strong state economy. The projected budget surplus for the next two years is $1.3 billion, and that’s after completely funding the state’s budget reserve. A big surplus will generate strong opinions about spending more on needed projects or offering money back to the people through tax breaks or rate decreases.
Most of these topics will also showcase the tension between metro and outstate lawmakers. This divide was apparent within the Senate DFL caucus, when longtime leader Tom Bakk from northern Minnesota lost his leadership role to Susan Kent of Woodbury. Many will perceive this as the state Senate turning its back on the people and needs of rural Minnesota.
We sincerely hope the hot-button issues won’t overshadow the vital business the legislators need to complete, particularly in crafting a bonding bill that addresses the biggest needs throughout the state.
We can all take a part in helping to guide this session, by sharing our opinions on key issues with our legislators and also urging them to concentrate on business and not on politics.
The session is now underway. We hope 2020 will be the year that our leaders concentrate more on getting substantive legislation passed and less on partisan wrangling.
An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome, send to email@example.com.