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Democrats' legislative priorities take shape

ST. PAUL — Funding all-day kindergarten, raising the minimum wage and repaying $550 million borrowed from K-12 schools rank among the top priorities for the DFL-led Legislature this session.

The first batch of bills introduced Thursday in the House and Senate offer a guide to what issues the Democrats plan to focus on in the early days of the session. The first four Senate bills are proposals to set up a health-insurance exchange, fund all-day kindergarten, raise the state's minimum wage from $6.15 an hour to $7.50 an hour and index it to inflation and make it tougher to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, emphasized the Legislature's chief responsibility is to balance the state's projected $1.1 billion budget deficit and to look at reforming the state's tax system. But he said Democrats believe these four proposals will help improve the lives of Minnesotans.

"We think these four bills are important to Minnesotans. We think that it will have a positive impact on citizens all across the state, and that is why we are giving them the priority that we are," Bakk said.

House Democrats unveiled their own priority list on Thursday. The first bills introduced would repay roughly half of the money owed to K-12 schools. Other bills include one to expand the state's property tax refund program and another investing in state economic development grants, along with one to set up the health-insurance exchange.


Among the proposals in the spotlight this session is one that would make it harder to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Bakk introduced a bill that would require a three-fifths vote of the Legislature instead of simple majority to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. It also would require a proposal be passed by each chamber of the Legislature in different years and delay a vote until the following general election.

It's an issue House Assistant Majority Leader Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, has been working on since last session. She is sponsoring a bipartisan bill that does not set the bar as high as Bakk's bill, instead requiring a two-thirds majority vote. It does not include the other vote requirements in the Senate version and seeks to put the question before Minnesota voters in a constitutional amendment.

"The constitution is an important document that should not be changed lightly, and I think the two-thirds sets that standard," she said.

Helping to fuel support for the bills is concern among lawmakers after last election's divisive and expensive amendment proposals to ban same-sex marriage and to require voters show photo identification to cast a ballot. Both measures failed to pass.

Not all lawmakers like the idea of making it tougher to put a ballot question before the voters.

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