ST. PAUL, Minn. — Lawmakers will be back in St. Paul Monday afternoon for the start of the 2024 legislative session. This marks year two of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s hold on the trifecta of state government.
Like always, there’s a lot on the agenda, but leaders say to expect a scaled-back priority list this session.
Last year, lawmakers passed a $72 billion state budget that funds the state government and its programs for two years. Some significant policies made it over the finish line, too, fromto to for all kids in school.
This year, leaders say they’re focusing on passing a bonding package to fund infrastructure projects and to make tweaks to legislation passed last year, like the law legalizing marijuana andto incidents in the classroom.
“There is a lot of unfinished business that was sitting out there that we were able to accomplish in 2023. I think that the list of things that’s still left to be done is pretty short,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said.
“Minnesota doesn’t have a revenue problem. We have high taxes. Minnesota has a spending problem. And House Republicans are willing to stand up and say, ‘No new spending,'” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth said.
Another big move expected this session is an equal rights amendment to the state constitution. On Monday morning, advocates and legislators rallied for the change ahead of the gavel’s noon knock. Democrats say they want to see the amendment protect abortion rights, which Republicans say is a purely political move.
“To me, it seems like political gamesmanship,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson said.
Another of the big issues looming is. There are currently two different bills that would both make betting on your phone and at local betting parlors legal. Gov. Tim Walz said that he is on board with moving forward on that issue.
Another top issue includes a so-called “right to die” bill, pertaining to assisted suicide.
Lawmakers also hope to pursue clarity on the controversial bill for student resource officers, which last year had police departments across the state expressing concerns that officers could be sued.
“We can fix this today and get our SROs back in schools, and give the parents and the students the peace of mind they deserve,” Rep. Jeff Witte, R-Lakeville, said.
The first committee hearing on the issue got underway late Monday afternoon in the House Education Committee. Rep. Cedrick Frazier’s bill would create statewide standards and training for school resource officers. However, a letter from the Minnesota Police Officers’ Union takes issue with Frazier’s bill, saying the language could still leave officers vulnerable to being sued. The letter asks for specific wording changes to the proposal.
The committee approved the bill late Monday evening and it has been referred to the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. It will be heard only Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Hortmann says she hopes to have that bill on the floor for a vote next week. Republicans say it’s going to likely take longer to work out changes that protect not only students and teachers but the SROs themselves.
Republicans also say they are going to try and do something about the controversial flag redesign that was adopted by a state committee. It’s not clear how far they will get, with the House Speaker on the record saying the flag is a done deal.
Walz said he thinks it will be a “pretty low-key” session.
“I think there’ll be some cleanup bills that we want to see done. We’ve got a fix we need to make to standard deduction for next year’s taxes, to make sure we get that cleared up. And a lot of good work being done around this school resource officer thing,” Walz said. “So I think for us it’s going to be just mostly focused on bonding and then cleaning up some of the things that need to be fixed.”
Walz kicked off the session by handing out breakfast bars with a spatula, to make sure the statehouse employees were “well fed.”
This is also an election year in which Minnesota House seats are on the ballot. Republicans are hoping toto restore balance at the Capitol.