Health, gun violence, education top House Democratic agenda
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Leaders of the new Democratic Minnesota House majority unveiled their first 10 bills of the session Wednesday, including a plan to let all residents buy into the MinnnesotaCare health program for the working poor.
They acknowledged it will be hard to find enough votes in the GOP-controlled Senate to enact all their proposals, including the MinnesotaCare buy-in and two bills aimed at gun violence. They said their agenda is based on voters mentioned to them, not just on what will pass, and hinted that it’s aimed partly at the next elections.
“This agenda is not necessarily designed to be governed by what Republicans will accept this year,” Majority Leader Ryan Winkler told reporters. “We are talking about the needs of Minnesotans regardless of whether it can pass this session, or this biennium, in the next two years, four years, six years, eight years.”
Senate Republicans hold just a two-vote majority. Winkler predicted most senators would support some of the bills if Senate leaders allow votes.
Speaker Melissa Hortman said the bills “aren’t big ticket items” but wouldn’t give a price.
The bills, which will be formally introduced Thursday as House Files 1-10, also include:
—Criminal background checks on all gun sales.
—Allowing law enforcement and family members to temporarily take guns out of the hands of people who endanger themselves or others.
—Making it easier to sue drug companies that impose “unconscionable increases” in costs.
—More funding for mental health and other programs for school-age children.
—Support for young children, especially those from low-income families, including more access to prenatal care and home visits for new parents.
—Paid family and medical leave funded with employer and employee contributions.
—Fighting “wage theft” by unscrupulous employers who refuse to pay or shortchange workers.
—Changing the state’s legal standard to make it easier to prove sexual harassment.
—Expanding rural broadband service.
Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester, chief author of the MinnesotaCare bill, said it’s an alternative for people who buy individual coverage instead of getting it from their employers, but find the available plans are too expensive and don’t cover enough. While Democratic Gov. Tim Walz supports it, Republicans say it will devastate struggling rural hospitals and clinics because MinnesotaCare pays providers less than regular insurance. Liebling countered that the state can change its rates.
Walz supports the gun measures, too, but some Republicans view them as an attack on the rights of lawful gun owners. Senate GOP leaders have been unenthusiastic about them.
Leaders of the main House Republican Caucus, and the four-member breakaway New House Republican Caucus, warned of higher taxes and health care costs. Deputy Republican Leader Anne Neu also said it was disappointing that the package didn’t include tax cuts, given the state’s projected $1.5 billion budget surplus.
Senate Republicans announced their first five bills Tuesday. They would address mental health needs in schools and on farms, reduce regulatory burdens on child care providers, seek to cut health care costs, reduce fraud and waste in child care and information technology programs, and simplify the state’s tax code while syncing it with the 2017 federal tax overhaul.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka pointedly did not join in the House GOP criticism.
“We may not see eye to eye on everything, but both parties have some good ideas, and at the very least, good intentions. ... The legislative process is perfectly designed to vet all of our ideas, and the best ones will rise to the top,” Gazelka said.