A year ago, Minnesota Women’s Press asked advocates what they wanted to see happen with the large surplus in the control of the Minnesota legislature. Due to legislative gridlock, few of their priorities were accomplished. However, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party now controls both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office, meaning negotiations over the next two-year state budget could result in much more progress.
At the opening of the new legislative session, which ends May 22, DFL House leaders outlined their main priorities: codifying abortion rights into Minnesota law (HF1), establishing paid family medical leave (HF2), facilitating election access (HF3), providing direct economic assistance to families with young children (HF9), funding education shortfalls, ending student food insecurity, and improving access to mental health services. Senate DFL leaders are aligned with these priorities.
Given the projected $17.6 billion surplus, representatives of several competing interests are seeking funds. More than one-third of the 201 lawmakers are first-term members, including 35 people of color and 12 people representing LGBTQ2S+ communities.
Here are a few areas that Minnesota Women’s Press is tracking during this session.
Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Minnesota had record-high drug overdose deaths in 2021, and rate of deaths from excessive drinking doubled since 2014. The Minnesota-based Mental Health Legislative Network (MHLN), a coalition of more than 40 mental health and substance use disorder organizations, is working on a series of bills.
Last year, National Alliance of Mental Illness Minnesota executive director Sue Abderholden told us she wanted to see greater funding for crisis homes and respite care for families living with mental illness issues; licensing funds to increase the number of mental health professionals and alcohol and drug counselors; expanded insurance plan networks to reduce the wait times for service; the expansion of Medicaid payment options; clinics that provide both mental and physical health care; and more trauma-informed navigators in the court system to decide if treatment is a better option than jail.
The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey has been conducted every three years since 1989. In 2022, it was completed by 135,000 students, generally in-person at schools. They reported greater struggles with long-term mental health issues (lasting more than six months) than at any other time in the history of the survey — 29 percent compared to 18 percent in 2016.
Nearly half of students in 11th grade, who were identified as female at birth, reported long-term mental, behavioral, or emotional health issues in 2022 — 45 percent, compared to 20 percent of peers who were identified as male at birth.
About 11 percent of students in 8th grade or higher identified as transgender, gender-fluid, nonbinary, and two spirit, or were unsure or didn’t answer the gender question. Of those students, 63 percent of them reported long-term mental health, behavioral, or emotional issues.
An alarming number: 28 percent of 11th graders reported having seriously considered suicide at some point in their life; LGBQT+ students were about four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual students. Transgender students who took the survey as 11th graders were most likely to have attempted suicide.
Bills in Minnesota’s House and Senate (HF21 and SF20, respectively) seek $90 million for full-service community schools, some of which would help schools address students’ physical and mental health needs. Other bills (HF8, SF56) seek $96 million to fund social workers, counselors, nurses, chemical dependency counselors, and psychologists.
A federal 988 suicide and crisis hotline was implemented in July 2022. Minnesota received $1.8 million in federal funds to staff its call center, and advocates are seeking additional funds to meet demand.
During the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline‘s first year in 2021, 17 United Way crisis counselors answered 9,300 calls. A high number of callers were struggling with substance abuse and at risk of suicide. Callers ranged in age from nine to 90, with one in four under 25 and one in 10 under 15.
Attendees at a “Start With Home” rally on January 11 called for $2 billion or more for affordable housing in 2023. Currently, investment in housing programs make up only 0.3 percent of the state general fund budget, according to a November 2022 MinnPost article. An estimated 8,000 Minnesotans are homeless on a given night. More than 500,000 Minnesotans are cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent; more than 200,000 pay more than 50 percent of income on housing. UPDATE: The Governor’s budget proposes investing $1.5 billion for housing stability programs across multiple agencies, including Minnesota Housing, Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Corrections. Find housing program budget here. Find Department of Human Services homeless programs here.
The Homes for All coalition seeks funding to acquire and rehabilitate old homes for affordable living, including $1 billion for construction, community land trusts, and home park infrastructure. An estimated $150 million is requested for emergency shelters. At least 153 Minnesotans died while homeless in 2022, according to Minneapolis nonprofit Simpson Housing Services. UPDATE: The Governor’s 2023 Infrastructure Plan includes more than $470 million in safe and affordable housing projects, including a historic $250 million investment in Housing Infrastructure Bonds to address the shortage of affordable housing units across the state.
A state rental assistance program for low-income households has been proposed (SF11/HF11). The Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program needs ongoing funds to provide emergency rental assistance to families facing eviction. UPDATE: Evictions on the rise in MN— a crisis ‘bigger than before’ the pandemic, committee hears
The legislature in 2022 failed to pass the Lead Safe Homes bill, which was intended to reduce the number of children impacted in the long term by lead paint poisoning. The House bill indicated one in three Minnesota homes have lead paint. It is being reintroduced this session as HF24. UPDATE $100m proposal to replace all MN lead water service lines within decade gains first approval in House
Pathway Home Act aims to provide more than $200 million for variety of homeless services
Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless 2023 Policy Agenda
The “Where We Live” film by Minnesota Housing offers insights from residents about homelessness and other housing topics.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Kari Dziedzic (651-296-7809)
Speaker of the House Rep. Melissa Hortman (651-296-4280)
House Majority Leader Rep. Jamie Long (651-296-5375)
House Minority Leader Rep. Lisa Demuth (651-296-4373)
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mark Johnson (651-296-5782)
Your State Senator and Representative: Find Your Legislator
Due to the statewide difficulty of accessing affordable, high-quality childcare, many Minnesotan parents are not returning to the workforce after leaving due to the pandemic. UPDATE: Bill proposes reimbursement boost for child care providers in state assistance program
Immigrants are struggling to access the education and transportation needed to fill employment gaps. New state senator Zaynab Mohamed authored a bill (HF4/SF27) to enable undocumented Minnesotans to get a driver’s license. UPDATE: The Minnesota House passed a bill 69-60 to give driver’s licenses to undocumented residents after a decade of advocacy from immigrant rights groups. The bill still needs Senate approval.
The Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, a state agency, is seeking to raise awareness of teacher shortages, increase the number of teachers of color, improve access to affordable quality childcare, increase funding to Head Start and English Language Learners programs, and take other measures to improve stability and development for the state’s workforce.
Offices of New Americans have been established in many state and municipal governments nationwide. Last year, $470,000 was requested by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to create this office in Minnesota, which would help newcomers get training in order to address workforce gaps needed in the state. One report estimates that immigrants made up 42.3 percent of “essential services” workers in Twin Cities.
Advocates for the disabled are seeking increased funds for personal care assistants, rehabilitation centers, transportation services, group home staffing, accessible living, and additional recreational options.
UPDATE: The PRO Act passed in the House on January 19 to standardize reproductive healthcare for all Minnesotans, was approved by the Senate, and will be signed into law by Governor Tim Walz.
UPDATE: House labor committee advances plan to give all Minnesotans paid sick leave
Several bills would invest in reducing violent and youth crime. In an average year, nearly 500 Minnesotans die and more than 800 are wounded by guns, which are the leading national cause of death among children and teens. Fire-arm related injuries and deaths have increased nearly 30 percent since 2019.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 77 percent of gun deaths in Minnesota are by suicide and 19 percent are homicides. The gun suicide rate in the most rural counties is more than two times higher than in urban areas.
HF25 would create a fund to investigate violent crimes and offer up to $30 million in grants toward victim services, re-entry for incarcerated individuals, homelessness assistance, youth diversion, restorative justice, and dispute mediation. An additional $15 million each year would support crisis response teams, in which social workers and mental health providers would be first responders to mental health crises.
SF55 and HF46 would establish an Office of Juvenile Restorative Justice to serve all counties. HF55 would provide funding for an Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls.
HF14 would require criminal background checks on all handgun and semiautomatic military-style assault weapon purchases. HF15 would enable loved ones and law enforcement to petition for the removal of access to firearms from those deemed dangerous to themselves and others.
SF0047/HF0197 is a resolution memorializing Congress to resolve that the requirements have been met to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which should become known as the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Democracy for the People Act will seek to reduce the influence of dark money and corporations in politics.
Governor Tim Walz is scheduled to release his budget proposal January 24. The Minnesota Management and Budget forecast will be released in February.
Visit the Minnesota Legislature website to contact your representative and/or senator, learn what bills they’ve introduced, and discover what committees they serve on in the Senate and the House.