Minnesota Democrats are embarking on a new legislative session with total control of state government and an ambitious wish list.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) and House and Senate leaders have laid out a plethora of issues they intend to tackle this year. Those include paid leave, recreational marijuana, climate change, driver’s licenses for undocumented people, protections for election workers, and allowing ex-felons to vote as soon as they are released from prison.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said at a news conference last week that while there were bipartisan successes in recent years, Republicans in control of the Senate blocked other priorities. Democrats, who in the midterms held their House majority and the governorship and picked up the Senate, want to take advantage of this moment.
The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, what Democrats are known as in the state, last held a government trifecta in 2014. The state’s financial standing — a roughly $18 billion budget surplus — eases their ability to take advantage of their political situation.
“With unified DFL control of state government, we now have an opportunity to work quickly to improve people’s lives,” Hortman said.
Here is a closer look at some of what they intend to accomplish:
- Paid Leave: Democrats introduced legislation that would provide Minnesotans, including small business owners and the self-employed, with up to 12 weeks of medical leave and up to 12 weeks of family leave. It would be funded by a 0.6% payroll tax split between employers and employees. The chamber passed a similar bill in 2020, but it never passed the GOP-controlled Senate. Opponents of the idea include the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which raised concerns about small business costs and how businesses would find workers to replace those on leave.
- Marijuana: Rep. Zach Stephenson (D) introduced legislation to allow adults to use marijuana recreationally. The bill would impose an 8% tax on top of the state sales tax, create a new agency to oversee the market, and set up a process for expunging records of low-level marijuana law violations. A similar measure was passed by the House in 2021 but was not approved by the Senate.
- Climate: The agenda Walz announced last year to tackle climate change includes setting a goal to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2040, approving new transit options, bolstering a weatherization-assistance program, and helping schools become more energy-efficient. Walz’s plan also incentivizes composting facilities and tree-planting campaigns.
- Driver’s licenses: A measure to allow driver’s licenses to be issued without proof of residency was approved by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday. It includes a provision to help prevent the sharing of people’s immigration status across state agencies. Supporters, including primary sponsor Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega (D), said the bill restores a practice changed by a 2003 law. The AFL-CIO and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce support the legislation. Opponents argued that the licenses could be used for voter fraud.
- Voting: Several voting-related bills introduced include one to allow people convicted of felonies to vote once released from custody, rather than requiring probation, parole, or supervised release to be completed. Secretary of State Steve Simon (D), who supports that measure, also called for legislation to protect election workers, including prohibiting intimidation of election officials; interfering with or hindering the administration of an election; dissemination of personal information about an election official; knowingly making false allegations about an election official; and obstructing access to a location where election duties are performed. The House election panel approved legislation that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.