Thursday, February 29, 2024

MN lawmakers return to Capitol to tackle infrastructure, school resource officers fix

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As lawmakers returned to the Minnesota Capitol Monday for the 2024 legislative session, activists rallied in support of causes ranging from gun control to a ban on local police from enforcing federal immigration laws.

But even though Democratic-Farmer-Labor majorities remain in control of the Senate and House, and a DFLer is governor, progressives may have to temper expectations this year as their allies in the Capitol signal a more limited agenda compared to last year.

DFL leaders like House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, say this year largely will focus on finishing touches and improvements to programs lawmakers passed last year, like a taxpayer-funded paid family and medical leave program set to start in 2026.

“We put an enormous amount of work on the executive branch’s plate last year, and they will need some time to be able to implement everything,” she told reporters on the House floor Monday afternoon.

That isn’t an odd thing for an even-numbered year at the Capitol. Lawmakers have already finished their two-year budget, meaning they’ll focus more on tweaks to last year’s work, and try to pass a public infrastructure borrowing bill.

DFL leaders say this year’s bill will call for more than $800 million in borrowing to fund projects across the state.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said there’s plenty of work ahead.

“We passed a powerful agenda last session,” Murphy said. “But that doesn’t mean we ran out of good ideas.”

School resource officers

Gov. Tim Walz kicked off the session Monday by visiting Senate and House chambers with baked treats as a gesture of bipartisanship and goodwill to lawmakers. This year’s snack? Apple blondies.

It’s the third year of pre-session baked goodies from Walz, but the gesture didn’t deter Republicans from leaping at a hot-button issue right out of the gate.

House Republicans wasted no time after the chamber gaveled in its first floor session of the year, pushing for a resolution to suspend rules and take up a bill to address law enforcement confusion over the use of certain restraints by officers in schools.

DFLers and Republicans are working toward a bill to address police concerns after many departments temporarily withdrew officers from classrooms last fall over liability concerns. A hearing on the bill happened Monday afternoon, and a vote could come within the first weeks of the session.

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said he expects Republicans to have a bigger role in the upcoming session. There’s no longer a $17.5 billion surplus, meaning DFLers may have to seek help outside their party.

“When you don’t have the money, (it’s) a little bit more difficult to bridge those issues,” he said. “It seems like the environment is better to have a more bipartisan relationship going forward.”

Republicans also will be able to push on their DFL colleagues with the infrastructure bill, as borrowing requires a three-fifths supermajority to pass. The Senate is 34-33 in favor of DFLers and the House is a 70-64 DFL majority.

ERA amendment, sports betting, physician-assisted suicide

Still, it’s not going to be a completely routine even-year session. Minnesotans can expect a few bigger moves this year, including legislative approval of a state Equal Rights Amendment, which voters likely will see on the ballot in 2026.

The amendment, which would expressly ban discrimination based on gender also would include protections for abortion, Hortman said.

There are also signals Minnesota could legalize sports betting. DFL and GOP lawmakers say they’re prepared to work with each other to pass a bill that would address the concerns of tribal casinos and other organizations that offer gambling, as well as concerns surrounding gambling addiction.

Democrats also are advancing a bill that would allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz told reporters he’d sign an aid in dying bill.

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