With DFL trifecta, bills race to Minnesota governor's desk
Already this session, Gov. Tim Walz has signed eight bills into law. Compare that to just one or two, or even no bills at this same point in previous sessions.
ST. PAUL — After years of divided government and legislative sessions marked by partisan gridlock, Minnesota lawmakers are working at a feverish pace to get bills to the governor’s desk.
While some of the bills have had widespread bipartisan support, Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers who for years have not been able to advance their agenda at the Capitol have already gotten abortion rights and a significant climate bill signed into law without Republican support.
Already this session, Gov. Tim Walz has signed eight bills into law. Compare that to just one or two, or even no bills at this same point in previous sessions. And dozens more on issues like banning so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, restoring felon voting rights and legalizing adult-use cannabis are racing through committees and getting votes on the House and Senate floors.
With a historic $17.6 billion surplus and control of the Senate, House and Governor’s Office — known as a trifecta — the session so far has been a whirlwind of activity not typically seen in Minnesota, longtime observers of state politics have said.
“People are expecting lots of stuff at this point and there’s just this incredible amount of pent-up demand for all kinds of legislation,” Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said in an interview with Forum News Service earlier this session.
Whether it's creating a new state paid family and medical leave system, boosting funding for education, or universal free school lunches, Democrats have a lengthy agenda and are highly motivated to get their priorities accomplished.
But the test, Schultz said, is whether they’ll be able to balance that with budget constraints, especially since much of the surplus is one-time money that won't be around in future budget cycles.
“At some point, you just wonder, how far are they able to get away with it? And how far is $17 billion going to go?” he said.
Eight bills is far more than what the governor usually gets to by February, but the volume of legislation passed so far this session in the House had already vastly overshadowed past decades in January.
By the fourth week of session, close to 1,000 bills had been introduced in the House — compared to roughly half that number in past odd-numbered years. The House also managed to pass seven bills by the fourth week, when typically there had only been one or two. Many more have moved through since, including a bill to restore felon voting rights which is set to receive a vote of the full Senate this week. If it passes out of that chamber it'll head to Walz's desk for a signature.
Last year's session ended with little significant legislation getting passed as the then-Republican-controlled Senate and DFL-controlled House could not reach an agreement on much of anything, including how to spend the surplus which was then $9.3 billion. Minnesota government had been divided between parties for about three decades, with the exception of another DFL trifecta in 2013-14.
Here's a look at some of the bigger bill signings so far in 2023:
The first bill Walz signed into law this session brought Minnesota’s tax code into conformity with the federal tax code, a bipartisan measure revenue officials estimated would bring about $100 million in tax relief over the next few years.
During the pandemic, the federal government enacted policies that affected the tax status of businesses and individual filers, including student loan borrowers and the hospitality industry. But because Minnesota hadn’t conformed its tax laws to the federal code since 2019, some filers in the state missed out on some of the credits and deductions.
Mining unemployment insurance
A bill extending unemployment insurance benefits for laid-off miners was the second to reach Walz’s desk this year. The proposal had wide bipartisan support.
More than 400 people have been out of work since the Northshore Mining iron ore mine in Babbitt and pellet plant in Silver Bay idled last spring. The bill signed by Walz on Jan. 25 retroactively provides another 26 weeks of benefits to the laid-off miners. April is the earliest date Northshore could restart operations.
Minnesota Democrats now in full control of state government credit their success in the last election partly to voter concerns about abortion rights. The Protect Reproductive Options Act, which is now Minnesota law, codifies the right to an abortion in state law, and was a No. 1 priority for DFL legislative leaders. It was the first bill filed in the House and reached the governor’s desk by the end of January.
In early February, Walz signed a bill placing specific protections for ethnic hairstyles into state law. Natural hairstyles and textures such as “braids, locs and twists” are now included in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The CROWN Act, an acronym for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair,” is part of a national movement to put such protections in state and federal law.
Another measure that passed on wide bipartisan lines that Walz signed into law was a new Juneteenth state holiday. Juneteenth, June 19, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. While Minnesota has recognized the day in the past, it’s now an official holiday for state employees.
All electric power generation in Minnesota will be required to be 100% carbon-free by 2040 under legislation signed into law by Walz earlier this month. Major electric utilities and labor groups supported the bill, though Republicans and a power collective raised concerns about reliability.
Walz earlier in February signed into law a bill unlocking $315 million in federal funding for Minnesota construction projects. The federal government had allocated the money to the state in 2022, but the Department of Transportation needed authorization from the Legislature to use the funds. This bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
Attorney general funding
After years of pushing at the Legislature, Attorney General Keith Ellison secured additional funding for the criminal division of his office through a bill signed into law earlier this month.
With more than $2 million in funding, Ellison hopes to hire additional attorneys who will focus on assisting local prosecutors with criminal cases. Ellison said county attorneys from across the state have been asking him to expand the division to aid with prosecuting local criminal cases.