Abortion, paid leave, elections top list of DFL bills at beginning of session
DFL leaders on Wednesday started to reveal a little more about their plans.
ST. PAUL — Democratic-Farmer-Labor leadership in the Minnesota House and Senate announced their shared priorities Wednesday, saying they’d act quickly on abortion rights, paid family leave and expanding voting rights.
The first bill introduced in the Senate and House this session was the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act, followed by bills in each chamber to create a paid family and medical leave program. The third pair of bills introduced would make voter registration automatic in Minnesota and create new penalties for voter intimidation.
“We’re aligned on our values and priorities and we’re ready to work hard and work quickly to meet the needs of Minnesotans,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters at a joint news conference with House Majority Leader Jamie Long and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic.
Tuesday marked the end of years of split-party control of the Legislature , opening the door for many new possibilities at the Capitol. Republicans had controlled the Senate but lost their majority in the last election.
It was evident Democrats would move on issues like paid leave and abortion rights once they had control of both the Legislature and governor’s office, though DFL leaders on Wednesday started to reveal a little more about their plans. Absent from their announcement was any discussion of legalizing adult recreational marijuana — something many had speculated DFL lawmakers might move on quickly.
Abortion rights, however, appears to be a top priority. The PRO Act is set to receive a hearing Thursday morning in the Senate. Paid Family and Medical Leave will require many committee hearings before it can make it to the House or Senate floor for a vote, Dziedzic said, so it remains to be seen exactly how quickly the Legislature can move on that issue.
On the voting rights front, House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday introduced the “Democracy for the People Act,” which beyond establishing automatic voter registration would restore a felon's right to vote following incarceration. Presently, felons in Minnesota must complete their probation before voting again, sometimes preventing them from voting for decades after release. A case on the matter is currently being weighed by the state supreme court. The bill would also make it a gross misdemeanor to intimidate voters.
Hortman and Dziedzic said the earliest bills were a starting point for this session and they continue to work out the details of other pieces of legislation. Their other priorities include affordable day care, expanding funding for education, establishing buy-in coverage with MinnesotaCare, and creating more affordable housing. They also hope to put Minnesota on track to have 100% clean energy by 2040 and prohibit price gouging on medication.
“Minnesotans told us they want an economy that works for everybody. They want their rights protected, their freedoms expanded and democracy defended. They also want us to lower costs where we can so they can afford their lives,” Dziedzic said. “As the speaker pointed out, we are aligned on our values and priorities and we are ready to act.”
It remains to be seen exactly what type of budget legislators will produce. While the state budget office projects Minnesota has a historic $17.6 billion surplus, DFL majorities in the Senate and House said they’ll wait for February projections to write the state’s more than $50 billion two-year budget.
In a joint statement, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson and Republican House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth accused Democrats of focusing on partisan priorities rather than seeking common ground on the budget and record surplus.
"The DFL priorities we heard today were what we expected: controversial and divisive," the statement said. "Rather than getting to work on balancing the budget and giving the massive surplus back to the people, they are rushing through their own top priorities without bipartisan support."