Abortion rights, paid family leave top DFL plans for 2023

Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Codifying the right to an abortion, setting up a paid family and medical leave program, expanding voting rights and fast tracking Minnesota’s clean energy goals are among the top priorities for Democrats at the Capitol this year, legislative leaders said Wednesday.

DFL leaders formally laid out their top goals a day after the lawmakers were sworn in for the 2023 legislative session and Democrats took control of all three levers of power.

The measures didn’t come as much of a surprise, since Democrats had promised on the campaign trail that they would push the bills if elected. And in the months since Election Day, they doubled down on those vows.

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But they highlighted areas where Democrats felt they could find agreement in the DFL-led House and narrowly-divided DFL-controlled Senate. The leaders also said the measures would move first at the Capitol and some of them to the governor’s office for his signature within a matter of weeks.

“We truly are moving swiftly — more swiftly than I can remember in my 18 years of service — because that’s what Minnesotans expect and deserve,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said. “We’re aligned on our values and our priorities and we’re ready to work hard and work quickly to meet the needs of Minnesotans.”

Plans to put in place a $3,000 per child tax credit to help parents pay for child care and set penalties for buying catalytic converters that appear stolen were also on the DFL list, as were banning price gouging, funding universal free school meals and boosting funding to public schools to offset the price of offering special education and English learner programs. Another priority is setting up a buy-in option to the state’s MinnesotaCare program.

Democrats said that after years of seeing their policy goals hit a wall in the GOP-led Senate, they had a new path to make many changes this year with the new political structure at the Capitol. And they planned to take advantage of that.

“In short, our priorities are Minnesota’s priorities,” Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “It’s what the people across the state told us they want us to do. And we plan to do that.”

But another DFL campaign theme — legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use — was noticeably absent from the slate of bills.

Legislative leaders said it remained a priority but didn’t make the cut because it was expected to take longer to work through the Legislature.

“It is a criminal justice reform issue. It is critically important that Minnesota right some of the wrongs that have been inflicted on our population because of our prohibition policy,” Hortman said.

Additional details about a DFL adult-use cannabis measure were set to be released on Thursday.

Hortman said additional details about a proposal would be coming out later in the week. Advocates for legalization and the author of a similar measure that came up short last year Rep. Jess Hanson, DFL-Burnsville, on Tuesday said supporters were hopeful the measure could pass this year but wanted to spend time listening to Minnesotans.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said in a news release the plans represented more of a DFL wish list than the top concerns of Minnesotans.

“The DFL priorities we heard today were what we expected — controversial and divisive. Rather than getting to work on balancing the budget and giving the massive surplus back to the people, they are rushing through their own top priorities without bipartisan support,” they said.

The measure to guarantee reproductive rights was put forward as the first piece of legislation introduced in each chamber, and a House health committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Thursday.

While the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled the Minnesota Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion and the right to decide to have an abortion, Hortman said lawmakers need to take another step to ensure that right.

“We know that the makeup of supreme courts at the state and federal level change and we think it is important to have that right enshrined in Minnesota statute,” Hortman said. “We will also note in statute that we agree that Doe v. Gomez was correctly decided and there is a right to privacy in the Minnesota Constitution.”

Hortman added that she personally favored putting the question on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment.

Republicans and anti-abortion groups said the measure goes too far and argued that some restrictions should remain in place around abortion access.

“This bill signals a full on radical assault on children and their mothers,” Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, said in a news release.