Walz, legislative leaders seek early wins in new session

January 14, 2019
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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, left, talks with Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt just before a briefing for reporters on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in St. Paul, Minnesota.(AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders from both parties agreed on at least one thing Monday — they want lawmakers to pass some easy bills quickly in the new session to grease the skids for tougher decisions later.

At a briefing hosted by Forum News Service, the elected officials said several proposals that died amid other disputes at the end of the 2018 session could be ripe for early approval. They said unlocking unspent federal election security money, and addressing the opioid crisis, elder abuse and distracted driving, have potential to be early successes.

“If we heard anything over the last year, it was that Minnesotans want to see us work together to find common ground,” the new Democratic governor said, drawing a contrast with the partial federal government shutdown. “They don’t expect us to agree on everything. ... Some of these early wins, I think, they build momentum. Success breeds success.”

Walz also said he planned to hold a news conference Tuesday about steps his administration will take to ease the effects the shutdown is having on Minnesota. He said his team has been working since he took office last week on plans for how to blunt the impacts, especially on the most vulnerable residents. Some of those plans may require lawmakers to approve state money, he said.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, who leads a new Democratic majority, said several proposals that had bipartisan support, but were wrapped up inside a 990-page catch-all bill that then-Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, could be resurrected.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort on our part to show Minnesotans ... that the federal government in D.C. might be broke but your government at the state Capitol in St. Paul still works,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

The leaders agreed the Legislature needs to bring the state’s tax code into conformity with the 2017 federal tax overhaul, another piece of unfinished business from last year, but they cautioned that tailoring a bill so it spreads the breaks around fairly and wins enough support won’t be simple.

The failure to enact a bill last year means residents will face more work in filing their 2018 state tax returns, though the state has found ways to relieve some of the headaches.

“This isn’t going to be an easy process, regardless of what anybody is saying,” Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said.

Walz, Hortman and Bakk said they support an effort this session to restore the voting rights of felons after they’ve completed their sentences, saying it could help reduce recidivism. Daudt and GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka were noncommittal.

“The ability to come back and participate fully in a democracy is one of the keys to reintegration,” Walz said.

Daudt said it’s a bigger discussion than just voting. He said the question for him is at what point have offenders paid their debt to society and at what point should their rights be restored, such as the right to own a firearm.

The governor and legislative leaders split on requiring background checks for all gun purchases. Gazelka said more money for school safety and mental health resources may be easier to accomplish.

Bakk said he supports background checks for sales by licensed firearms dealers and at gun shows, but not for private sales between friends or family. He also pointed out that when he was majority leader in 2013, when Democrats had 39 votes, there weren’t enough votes for gun restrictions. Now, with the GOP holding a two-vote majority in the Senate, he said it would take a lot of Republican help to pass anything.