Jan 31, 2022 - News

Partisan battles brewing as Minnesota Legislature returns

Illustration of donkey and elephant legs high-fiving.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Buckle up. The Minnesota Legislature is back and the likelihood of partisan battles is high.

What's happening: Lawmakers gavel in Monday for their regularly scheduled four-month policy-making sprint.

Why it matters: Decisions made at the Capitol have a direct impact on all Minnesotans, touching everything from the taxes we pay to the number of beers we can buy from our favorite craft brewers.

State of play: Democrats have a majority in the the House and Republicans in the Senate.

  • Some priorities, including a bill to fund construction projects across the state, need bipartisan support in both chambers.

The big picture: A high-states election that will determine control of the Capitol and the governor's office is on horizon, coloring debate on most issues.

  • Adding to the tensions: Two Republican senators, former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Sen. Michelle Benson, are running against DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

The big issue: The budget surplus, which is currently projected to be more than $7.7 billion and expected to grow given recent tax receipts, will be a central focus, even though lawmakers don't have to balance the budget this year.

  • Republicans want to prioritize tax cuts. Democrats want to use big chunks of the money for deposits on new programs, such as $1.7 billion to get a paid family leave program off the ground.

Plus: Concerns about rising crime — an issue both sides acknowledge is a concern for voters — will drive heated debate over dueling public safety policies.

What's new: As the Senate's new majority leader, Republican Jeremy Miller will represent his caucus at the negotiating table with Gov. Walz and Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park).

  • It's to be seen how the change shifts dynamics, but Miller has had good relationships with both Democrats in the past.

What to expect: Lots of bickering and news conferences touting bills on topics that will fire up each side's base — and tee up election attacks this fall — but have no chance of passing the other chamber.

  • Eventual deals on most big issues will likely drag out until the very end of the regular session in May — or spill into over-time work.

Yes, but: There might be some early wins. Both Hortman and Miller see potential for swift action to help relieve staffing pressures at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

  • Hortman said lawmakers also appear close to agreement on extending legislation that made it easier for some frontline professions to qualify for workers compensation if they contract COVID-19.
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