Minnesota House DFL leaders and legislators discussed their first priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session today. The legislation focuses on the ongoing pandemic and assisting Minnesotans struggling as a result of COVID-19. The first bills include the following:
Economic Security – HF 1
Worker Protections – HF 2
Health Care and Human Services – HF 3
Education – HF 4
Child Care – HF 5
COVID-19 continues to take center stage in the legislature, as the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the health and economy of the state. Being an odd year, lawmakers are hashing out the budget with fewer funds than they had a year ago, debating the priorities in the budget, how to manage pandemic relief, and resetting district maps.
Rep. Tina Liebling, (D-District 26A), chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee in the House, says that while her caucus is interested in issues like improving the mental health system and dental care for low-income people, and reducing racial disparities, the financial situation makes that difficult. “Unfortunately, we are probably going to be addressing how to make budget cuts without hurting people,” she said.
According to Liebling, there are some areas of consensus between the House and the Senate about priorities, including issues like tele-health. “Telehealth has been used a lot during the pandemic,” Liebling says. “You hear from health care providers, they just love it.”
On the Senate side, controlled by the Republicans, Sen. Carla Nelson agrees tele-health will be an important issue both parties can find agreement about. “We need to look broadly at our tele-health statutes and look at how we can update those to reflect the reality of the new tools and innovations,” she says.
Nelson said her colleagues will be focused on getting businesses open, and providing help to small businesses, in the form of tax relief from commercial and industrial property taxes.
Nelson wants to provide a tax break for people that receive social security benefits. “We are one of a handful of states that taxes the benefits that our seniors already purchased through their taxes on their paychecks,” Nelson says.
Meanwhile, opening (or closing) businesses is likely to remain a point of conflict between the parties.
“There is a tension between the governor’s emergency orders and executive power, and the legislature making some decisions,” says Liebling. “Can we put in place measures to continue to deal with the pandemic? Or are we so fracture, that we are not able to do that?”
New faces in the House and Senate include Rep. Liz Reyer (D-District 51B), who is replacing Laurie Halverson in the House. “She has a very interesting and varied background,” Liebling notes.
Rep. Liz Boldon (D-District 25B), from Rochester, is also new to the House, bringing a background as a nurse educator.
Other new faces include: Rep. Athena Hollins (D-District 66B), Rep. Esther Agbaje (D-District 59B), Sen. Julia Coleman (daughter-in-law of former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman), and Sen. Erin Murphy (D-District 64A), who previously served in the Minnesota House of Representatives and ran for governor in 2018.
There is a new homelessness prevention committee in the House, led by Rep. Aisha Gomez, which will work on fixing what is now a fragmentary system.
Gomez stated in a recent social media post: “That a rich state in a rich nation has an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness is a collective failure and shame.”
There is also a new House preventative health care committee, led by chair Rep. Ruth Richardson (D-District 52B).
The redistricting committee will reset district lines for the House and the Senate.
Sen. Nelson is not on that committee, but says she favors districts that are well rounded. “I think you get better legislation,” she says. Districts where Democrats and Republicans are challenged, not by the opposite party but candidates further to the left (or right), is a problem, according to Nelson.
“That skews our politics, where people are running either further to the right or further to the left,” she says. “Most Minnesotans, and most Americans are not hyper partisan like that.”