The 2018 Minnesota legislative session starts today (Feb. 20).
When the session begins the Minnesota House of Representatives and Minnesota Senate will have a Republican majority. A recent special election in the Senate resulted in the Republicans continuing with a 34-33 majority in the state Senate.
So, the question that will be on the minds of those watching what happens in St. Paul is how well will the Republican controlled legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, work together.
That was a question posed to the governor and the legislative leadership this past week during a press conference held in St. Paul.
Hosted by the Forum News Service, the press conference provided the opportunity for media from across the state to speak with the leadership about expectations of the 2018 session, with provision for rural media through a live stream of the event on the Senate media services Web site.
The 2017 session did not end well for either side, with the governor defunding the legislative branch in the final actions of the session. That case ended up in the Minnesota Supreme Court, and its do-nothing decision will result in necessary action as the session begins to restore that funding.
Gov. Mark Dayton called the 2018 session the opportunity for a fresh start, adding he is hopeful what has happened in the past can be set aside to allow those who were elected to work together to do what is best for the citizens of Minnesota.
Kurt Daudt, who serves as Speaker of the House, said it is important for personalities to not get in the way, adding the elected leaders of the state need to focus on solving the big problems and issues facing the state.
Daudt said the intent within the first days of the session is to offer a funding bill, adding the intent would be for that to be a stand-alone bill. Dayton added he preferred a stand-alone funding bill as well, adding the time has come to put all that happened in the past.
“We need to focus on the here and now,” said Dayton.
Dayton said the reality is that those elected from different parties have different points of view and beliefs about how best to answer the challenges facing the state, adding the clash of ideas is all part of the process.
Yet, in the end, Dayton said the crucial thing is to find compromise.
One of the most significant tasks of the 2018 session is the capital investment bill. Known as bonding, the central focus of the second year of a biennium is on developing a bill that will address the infrastructure needs of the state.
The governor has proposed a bill that is in the $1.5 billion range.
For Republican leadership, including Paul Gazelka, Senate majority leader, the intent would be to come up with a bill that is responsible and affordable. Daudt suggested a bill closer to the $800 million range.
Tom Bakk, Senate minority leader, said in the end he thinks at the end of the day the session will result in a bonding bill of about $1 billion, adding on top of that he would like to see another maintenance bill approved that would help address the growing needs of state assets.
Melissa Hortman, House minority leader, said now is the time to invest in these infrastructure projects, as interest rates are projected to increase in the near future.
Another of the major issues the legislature will have to tackle is the change in tax law approved at the federal level and the impact that has on tax law in the state.
The intent, said Gazelka, is to get Minnesota in conformity with the federal tax law.
Bakk said the legislature will need to do something to address the MNLARS system challenges. The sentiment of the state leadership is that the February budget forecast, which is set to be announced soon, is going to show a surplus.
During the session bills may come forward to address the issue of campus free speech on public institutions to ensure that all parties have an opportunity to speak their mind and share their ideas.
With attention focused on the issues of sexual misconduct, state leadership has opted to provide additional training for staff and elected officials, with added emphasis also placed on ensuring everyone from those elected officials to the lobbyists and members of the public can feel safe as they participate during the session.
All agreed even one incident is too many, adding the intent would also be to have legal representatives take a look at state law regarding this issue to ensure Minnesota has the right policies and procedures in place.
“This is not an issue unique to Minnesota,” said Bakk, adding he thinks the state can look at the example of other states to find out how best to address it.
Gazelka said this is one of those issues that just can’t become partisan.
“We wall want a safe and respectful workplace environment for everyone,” said Daudt, who added during the second day of the session legislators will be going through training.
State leaders expressed optimism about the 2018 session, adding they believe in the end everyone can work together to find that common ground and make decisions that will help make Minnesota even better.
Photo courtesy of the Internet public domain