ST. PAUL — Troopers guarded the Minnesota Capitol this week against threats of violence from those who rejected President Joe Biden's win over former President Donald Trump though no conflicts materialized.
And as the Biden administration took office, Republican leaders in the state reiterated questions about the validity of the election despite the results of several probes and court decisions affirming the results were legal and fair.
Their Democratic colleagues pressed them to walk back the comments to prevent instances of violence and, in the Legislature, lawmakers brought forward distinct sets of policy that they said would help ensure fair elections in the future.
Senate Republicans on Thursday, Jan. 21, put up their top priorities, which included rolling back the Walz administration's restrictions to deal with the coronavirus and bringing lawmakers into the fold in deciding how the state should respond to the pandemic.
The proposals broke with the first bills filed by Democrats, who lead the House of Representatives, and signaled dust-ups are on the way as each group aims to push its plans through the divided Statehouse.
As the third week of the 2021 legislative session comes to a close, here's a look at what lawmakers took up and what's on tap next week.
Biden takes office, GOP reiterates election 'concerns'
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office on Wednesday and, in Minnesota, some Republicans reiterated their concerns with the 2020 election despite widespread acceptance for the result.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan on Tuesday repeated her concerns about the 2020 election following calls from Democratic leaders to walk back allegations about the election being illegal or unfair.
And in the Statehouse, political divisions colored the responses brought forward in response.
Democrats in the House of Representatives proposed a package of bills that would ban harassment of voters or election officials and boost election security infrastructure, create an automatic voter registration system, require additional transparency in campaign spending and set in place new guidelines for redistricting. Lawmakers said the 2020 election and continued denial of the election results in recent weeks showed the state needs to implement additional protections.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who hold a majority in the state Senate, brought forth a bill that would require photo identification to cast a ballot. Supporters said the plan would help prevent voter fraud while opponents said it would prevent certain groups from voting. Minnesotans in 2012 voted down the policy as a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Both chambers also worked on resolutions denouncing the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to block then-President-elect Biden from taking office and affirming the results of Minnesota's elections. But Republicans in separate House and Senate versions walked back language in the DFL-drafted statements affirming election results more broadly.
Pandemic a top concern, varied solutions emerge
Senate Republicans this week also put up their top priorities for the 2021 legislative session, with reopening sectors closed due to COVID-19 and limiting state spending at the forefront.
“We know that if we don’t vanquish COVID, everything else is basically in limbo so it is our No. 1 priority, how do we recover from COVID?" Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told Forum News Service. "In particular, getting our economy back up and running, getting the vaccines out as fast as possible and opening up schools so that kids are not denied their education are just absolutely critical."
So how would Senate Republicans do that?
They proposed bumping up the number of businesses that can be open with COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place, preventing governors from closing Minnesota schools by executive order and encouraging speedier vaccine rollouts to adults older than 65.
The platforms contrast with those laid out by House Democrats last week and foreshadow conflicts between legislative Republicans and their DFL peers and the Walz administration on the horizon.
Democrats last week put forth plans to help Minnesotans hit hardest by COVID-19 cover the cost of housing and food, ensure workers have protections if they contract the illness or need to care for loved ones, increase resources for those in long-term care or living without a shelter and boost spending for schools and child care providers.
Walz's emergency powers come up for review
Both the House and the Senate this week also brought forth plans to change the governor's emergency powers during a peacetime emergency. Since March, Gov. Tim Walz has exercised broad executive power to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed him to enact policies without legislative approval.
And that has ruffled the feathers of lawmakers who want a more active say in the state's response.
In the Minnesota House of Representatives, the Committee on Legislative Process Reform on Friday started breaking down dozens of the governor's executive orders and considering how the Legislature could place some of the protections for workers, families and consumers in law and start removing outdated policies.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Sen. Dave Osmek, R- Mound, brought forth a bill that would flip the role of the Legislature in extending a peacetime emergency. Currently, both chambers of the Legislature need to vote to end the peacetime emergency. Under Osmek's plan, both chambers would have to vote "Yes" to extend it.
In the divided Legislature, that could make it easier for the party at odds with the governor to close out a state of emergency.
"Instead it makes us part of the process," Osmek said in a video. "It puts us coequal branches of government, that's what this is all about."
Walz has said the emergency powers are key to allowing the state to quickly respond to the pandemic without seeking the approval of lawmakers, which can take days or weeks. He has urged lawmakers to enact in law several of his executive orders before he'd end the state of emergency.
The peacetime emergency has allowed the state to quickly scale up testing capacity, activate the Minnesota National Guard and place an eviction on moratoriums since it was first put in place in March. Walz has also been able to require Minnesotans to stay at home except for when performing essential tasks and temporarily shut down sectors of the economy and social gatherings.
Budget and plans to fill $1.3 billion gap come into focus
Walz next week is set to lay out his priorities for the state's next two-year budget and ahead of that presentation leaders in the divided government signaled that disagreements were on the way.
Democrats said they'd push to implement a tax plan that would increase income taxes for top income earners to bring in more revenue to fund state programs.
"Minnesota is a state of abundance. We have the resources and the skills we need to meet the skills of Minnesotans," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, told reporters on Thursday. "The way we look at the state budget is that it's a moral document and we should fund the things that Minnesotans need and we should have a fair tax system where people pay their fair share."
Meanwhile, Republicans said that existing revenue and budget reserves should be enough to cover the next spending plan and a forecast $1.3 billion budget hole. They've proposed 5% spending cuts across state government to shrink the projected deficit. The state has about $2.38 billion in its rainy day fund.
“All tax increases, income tax, sales tax, gas tax, even though it’s not off the table for us," Gazelka said. "We believe you can absolutely do it within the resources we have."