Legislative Update: Session in Full Speed, Majority Priorities, Lobby Day
By: Stu Lourey, MFU Government Relations Director
The second week of January marked the same of the state legislative session with lawmakers already operating at full speed. With a new, narrow DFL majority in the State Senate, DFLers have unified control of state government for the first time in nearly 10 years. Given this opportunity, legislative have already demonstrated their eagerness to act on issues that unify their caucuses—and even some that are bipartisan. For our part, MFU has been hard at work sharing information about our legislative priorities, connecting with chairs and leaders, introducing our organization to the many legislators who are new this year, and maintaining a presence across priority committees.
You can keep up with the current committee and floor schedules here, watch Senate hearings here, and House hearings here. You can find a comprehensive list of bills that have been introduced this session here.
In the past near-decade of divided government, nearly all legislation passed via omnibus bills – catchall legislative proposals that cover a particular area (i.e. agriculture) and pull together numerous proposals brought forward by individual legislators. These large packages left room for compromise, allowing each caucus getting some of their priorities. To best manage time debating bills on the floor and manage intra-caucus differences, this will still be the case, but new DFL control will be more exceptions to that rule.
A defining question for caucus leaders has been what they can act on early in session and pass as a standalone package. On January 4, 2023 DFLers held a press conference to outline their top priorities for the upcoming session. While Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) was clear that this was just a “representative sample” and did not reflect all that they hoped to pass this session, it does provide an important window into what might move quickly.
On the top of that list, Hortman, Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis), and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dzeidzic (DFL-Minneapolis) spoke about their support for:
- Protecting Reproductive Freedom via the PRO Act
- Approving Paid Family and Medical Leave, including for independently employed people
- Protecting Democracy through reforms that make voting more accessible
- Fully funding special education
- Expanding the childcare tax credit
- Passing 100% clean energy by 2040
Speaking to MFU’s top priority this session, Leader Long spoke about the DFL’s commitment to finally passing an affordable, public MinnesotaCare Buy-in (HF96), which would provide needed options for farmers and independent businesses owners who face high healthcare costs on the individual market. Senator Melissa Wicklund (DFL-Bloomington) is carrying this legislation (SF49) in the Senate. Modeled after the proposal last session and unlike recent attempts at buy-ins in other states, Minnesota’s would be the first buy-in that is truly public, expanding a successful and popular program to higher income Minnesotans. For a sense of how this program would work—and how long MFU has been working to pass it—you can review this fact sheet from when the proposal was brought forward under Governor Mark Dayton.
Finally, and important to MFU’s top priorities this session, legislators reiterated their support for helping Minnesotans afford their lives by passing a prohibition against price gouging. Senate Housing Chair, Lindsey Port (DFL-Burnsville) and House Commerce Chair, Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), are leading this bill (SF6/HF6). On Monday, January 9, MFU President Gary Wertish testified in support of the proposal in Chair Stephenson’s committee.
“Minnesotans have watched the largest corporations earn record profits while the rest of us get squeezed by skyrocketing prices,” Wertish said in his testimony. “It is critical that Minnesota has additional tools for cracking down on corporate profiteering and prohibiting price gouging is a first step.”
MFU’s legislative team has also hit the ground running on other competition issues, kicking off the session with a formal letter to the Attorney General’s office expressing our strong opposition to the merger between Sanford Health and M Health Fairview.
“Our members have long struggled with high health care costs and lack of access to care,” said President Wertish in his letter. “We believe that allowing one company to consolidate control of a fifth of Minnesota’s hospitals would only contribute to these challenges, making a merger the wrong choice for consumers, workers and rural communities.”
The Attorney General is hosting a series of listening sessions in St. Paul, Bemidji, Worthington, and Grand Rapids and collecting direct feedback from Minnesotans. We encourage you to make your voice heard on this important issue.
Finally for competition—and in addition to meeting with building momentum for antitrust reforms—MFU has renewed our strong push to finally pass Right to Repair into law. While John Deere has again shared that they plan to provide farmers and independent repair technicians with the means to repair equipment, the agreement lacks teeth. In the words of Right to Repair champion Kevin O’Reilly, “the MOU contains limited enforcement mechanisms and the best aspects of this agreement could get lost in the legalese. Like Charlie Brown, farmers have lined up for the kick too many times to let Lucy pull the ball away again.”
As evidence of the new legislature’s ability to quickly and in a bipartisan way, Tax Chair Aisha Gomez (DFL-Minneapolis) led in passing a tax conformity package (HF31) off the House Floor on the first Monday of session. Senate Chair, Anne Rest’s (DFL-New Hope) companion bill (SF25) is expected to move quickly as well. Quick action on this required close work with both Republicans on the committee and with Commissioner Paul Marquart’s team at the Department of Revenue. The legislature acted quickly in order to give the Department time to implement changes before taxes are due.