Abortion protection first on the list of bill proposals

By Robert Williams

Editor

When Minnesota Democrats flipped the senate in November’s election and gained a trifecta of power in state government for the first time since 2013, party leaders suggested that some of the first items to be pursued in the opening legislative session of 2023 were protecting abortion access, increased funding for education and recreational, adult-use marijuana legalization.

The Minnesota Legislature convened Tuesday, Jan. 3, with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and in the governor’s office. The Senate majority is slim—one seat. The Democrats also own a triplex holding the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

Democrats highlighted their top priority in the session Wednesday, a bill to guarantee abortion access in state law.

Abortion is a protected right in the state constitution after a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision, but Democrats are pursuing the bill as backup in case the Court were to ever reverse that decision after witnessing the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade last June.

Gov. Tim Walz has been vocal about his promise to make the largest investment in public education in state history, which includes investments in special education and mental health support services and implementing free, universal school lunch.

“In the coming weeks, we will announce a bold new proposal to lift up our children, our youth and our families in Minnesota and put them at the very center of the state budget,” Walz said.

The governor also cited access to affordable healthcare, childcare and early education among his top priorities, along with touting the three-headed state leadership of his party.

“The era of gridlock in St. Paul is over,” he said 

During Wednesday’s press conference Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic promised more funding for special education and related services. Another top priority is establishing paid and family medical leave to allow Minnesotans to take time away from work to care for a family member or themselves.

The law would improve economic security for families and help prevent workers from leaving the workforce amid a temporary personal or family crisis. Workers would get 12 weeks of guaranteed income if missing work for a family or medical emergency. 

The benefit would likely be funded by a payroll tax increase, but has to pass a number of committees first.

Democrats are also seeking an expanded tax credit for families with child care expenses: $1,500 credit for each child ages 5 and older, up to $3,000. 

The credit will be increased for parents of younger children: $5,000 for each child under age 5, with a maximum of $12,500.

Other DFL priorities include bills aimed to increase voter participation, including changes to voter registration and restoring voting rights to some Minnesotans with a criminal record. 

On Thursday, a 243-page bill on legalizing marijuana was discussed and will likely be headed to the Legislature next week. 

A legalization bill was in the House two years ago, but never had a chance in the Senate, despite support from Gov. Walz.

Walz has come out publicly multiple times and on social media in support of legalization.

The bill is a framework to permit cannabis use for people 21 and older.

The bill will likely be vetted intensely this session in multiple committees regarding other aspects like cultivation, legal sales, taxation and expungement for past offenses for marijuana-related convictions.

“It’s time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota. I’m ready to sign it into law,” Walz said via Twitter on Thursday.

The bill also creates the Office of Cannabis Management.

Individuals would be allowed to grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use. 

Commercial sales would be allowed and taxed at a rate of up to 10 percent.

Bill sponsors said the revenue a tax raises, some estimates of $150 million per year, will cover costs of regulation and public safety issues. The bill also cleans up the new hemp-infused edibles law that was legalized last summer. Some counties, like Otter Tail, have already taken steps to regulate edibles via moratorium, while allowing cities to set their own rules regarding edible sales.

The bill will likely find plenty of support in the House but may get tripped up in the Senate where the DFL holds a one-seat advantage. Bill sponsors are looking for bipartisan support, while detractors cite safety issues on the roads, other police issues, and chemical concentrations.

So far, there has been little talk about rebate checks to Minnesotans from the state’s $17.6 billion surplus. Gov. Walz has pushed for the checks and did so during his speech after being sworn into office. 

The checks would likely be multiple with a total of $1,000 per adult. Both Democrats and Republicans have been stingy in response to the proposal.

Locally, members of the Frazee Community Development Corporation are expecting to be in St. Paul during the first weeks of January lobbying for the Wannigan Regional Park Project grants and Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources monies, along with pushing for funding for the Heartland Trail.