Historic. That’s an apt description for the just-completed legislative session here in Minnesota that blew away previous guideposts for productivity. While Minnesotans will no doubt disagree on some of the new laws and policies enacted this session, it’s hard to argue that it was anything short of transformational.
With a DFL trifecta in St. Paul, lawmakers were able to complete their work on time even as they passed groundbreaking new policies addressing everything from school lunches to healthcare, gun safety to abortion rights. It also, along the way, delivered the largest capital funding budget in state history, tens of millions of dollars of which are headed to the North Country.
When the session began, the DFL offered up a long (most said impossibly long) list of goals. Even with the party in full control of the Legislature and with a partner in DFL Gov. Tim Walz, few could have expected that when the ink was finally dry on all the new bills, that every major DFL initiative had been accomplished in one form or fashion.
The details of all that legislation occupies many thousands of pages, which obviously can’t be recited here. But the broad themes of the session are clear: Expanding rights, helping vulnerable populations, and taking action to protect the environment.
A new law requires utilities to speed up their transition to 100 percent clean energy, from the current deadline of 2050, to 2040, or just 17 years from now, and provides incentives to help make that happen. A new law pays for free school lunches for every student in the state to ensure that no student has to go hungry. A new law enshrines abortion rights into state law for the first time. Another new law finally ends the failed prohibition on marijuana and will help the tens of thousands of Minnesotans whose lives were upended by simple pot possession violations obtain expungements of their records. Protections for LGBTQ Minnesotans were also enshrined into law, a notable achievement at a time when other states are increasingly writing new laws to make life harder for these communities. A new law will now require background checks for all gun sales outside the immediate family and enacts a so-called “red flag” law that gives family or others the ability to ask a court to temporarily restrict a family member’sww access to guns if they’re experiencing a mental illness. That provision should have won universal support, but like much of the legislation passed this session, its approval came on narrow, party line votes.
Fortunately, lawmakers did find time to cross party lines on occasion, especially when it came to state infrastructure spending. We were pleased to hear of the extensive cooperation between our region’s two freshman lawmakers, DFL Sen. Grant Hauschild and GOP Rep. Roger Skraba, as they tag-teamed in their respective bodies to maximize the benefits to the communities they serve. They definitely “brought home the bacon,” and we don’t mean that pejoratively. One of the primary functions of a lawmaker is to advocate for policies and funding that matter to the people who elect them.
Both Hauschild and Skraba demonstrated a willingness to buck their party when they felt it was important to do so. Hauschild was a key no-vote in the Senate that blocked enactment of higher fees for hunting and fishing licenses and entry to state parks. He also blocked some gun safety measures that he thought went too far, while still backing the measures that passed. Those are votes that clearly reflected the interests of residents of the Third District.
Skraba, meanwhile, was one of a handful of House Republicans who crossed party lines in support of the bonding bill. And while he initially opposed marijuana legalization when the initial bill allowed too little local control over establishment of dispensaries, he changed course when the final measure gave cities much greater say.
While these two new lawmakers certainly have different priorities on many policy matters, they showed that they are willing to put aside party politics for the good of their constituents.
The session proved that the progressive vision that has long been an important part of Minnesota’s political tradition is still alive and well and is showing what it can achieve when given the chance. It’s a remarkable contrast to what many other states are experiencing under full GOP control of their state governments, where women and many vulnerable groups are seeing their rights under attack, and where freedom of speech and thought is being curtailed.
Against that backdrop, Minnesota looks like a guiding light, truly the “North Star” state.
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