Minnesota lawmakers return to St. Paul this week. Catch up on where top issues stand

Published 8:21 am Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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By Brian Bakst, Dana Ferguson and Nicole Johnson

With a little more than a month left in the legislative session, lawmakers have approved and the governor has signed 23 bills into law. More than 1,000 Minnesotans told MPR News what they hope lawmakers will accomplish and what they want done with the state’s projected $17.5 billion surplus.

We created a list of your top priorities and compiled an update on where legislation currently stands on the issues you said matter to you. Lawmakers have already hinted at where they want the money to go. Here’s a look at what’s passed and what’s in the works:

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Shortly after lawmakers were sworn in for the 2023 legislative session, DFL leaders approved a proposal to guarantee in state law the right to an abortion and access to other reproductive health care in Minnesota. This bill, known as PRO Act, was signed by Gov. Tim Walz in January.

The law includes access to birth control, sterilization, family planning support and other services, and prohibits local governments from enacting policies that infringe on those rights.

But DFL leaders have said there’s more to do when it comes to solidifying the right to abortion access in Minnesota.

The House passed another bill in March that would offer legal protections to patients who travel to Minnesota for an abortion and the providers that treat them. The Senate is poised to take up the measure, and leaders there said it’s important to help people from other states who come to Minnesota seeking reproductive care.

Lawmakers are also weighing a Senate bill that would strike dozens of state restrictions on abortion and repeal various outdated laws around sodomy, fornication and adultery. The language is included in larger health policy and spending bills in each chamber. Here’s more information on what’s included in that measure.

They’re also weighing as part of their omnibus spending bills proposals to increase state medical assistance funding for abortion services and ending state funding for centers that encourage abortion alternatives.


We asked you what you would like the government to do with the $17.5 billion budget surplus and tax relief mattered. While Minnesota lawmakers are immersed in another robust debate, here’s what’s been done and what is in the works.

Mini tax bill

Walz in January signed into law a $100 million tax plan that will align state tax policy with federal tax law, providing relief to hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who benefitted from federal loans and grants.

Social Security

In early 2022, Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol agreed to drop the state income tax on Social Security benefits as part of a tax bill. But they couldn’t get it to the finish line before the session adjourned last May.

Walz and some DFL lawmakers have said they want to shrink the pool of people who pay the tax on Social Security. But they don’t want to eliminate the tax altogether, because they think it’s important for top income earners in Minnesota to pay their fair share.

“There’s a desire to make it simpler and more straightforward. There’s a desire to exempt more individuals from paying any tax on their Social Security income,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told MPR News in a recent interview. “There is not a desire to say no matter how much you make, if some of your income is from Social Security, we’re going to exempt that from taxation completely.”

However, the call to ditch the tax has resonance with Minnesotans across the state. Several lawmakers who won swing district races key to the DFL majorities said they would make elimination of the tax a priority. And Republicans have also said it’s a top priority for them this year.

Eliminating the tax outright would cost the state treasury about $600 million per year. Resolution of the issue is likely to be one of the final items decided by lawmakers.

Tax rebates

This week, tax committees are set to unveil their proposals for tax cuts, rebates and other changes for the next two years.

They plan to use about $3 billion from the budget surplus to incorporate new tax cuts.

DFL leaders have said they expect a final bill will include a mix of one-time rebate checks, elimination of the Social Security tax for some Minnesotans (not a full exemption) and credits for other groups.

Walz asked lawmakers to include about $4 billion in tax rebates — up to $1,000 for income-qualified single filers and $2,000 for couples, with as much as $600 more for families with multiple children. Given the $3 billion target, that proposal will likely be pared back.

Republicans, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, rolled out a tax rebate proposal of their own. It would deliver $5 billion in rebates to all Minnesota households regardless of income — $1,250 for single filers and $2,500 for married filers.

And new tax hikes

Even with the state’s big surplus, there could be areas where people are asked to pay more.

Lawmakers are moving to enact a metro-wide sales tax increase to help fund mass transit. There is also a proposed delivery fee on some goods to augment road construction.

And Walz has suggested a higher tax on investment income for top earners. What survives the final cut remains to be seen.

Cannabis legalization

A marijuana legalization bill has been heavily reviewed, going through dozens of committees. It has changed along the way and will likely change more as votes near.

The main points of the bill include: Anyone over 21 would be able to possess marijuana and use it with limitations on smoking at schools, behind the wheel and other defined settings; a system for licensing growers, shippers and retailers would be set up and taxes would be assessed; and people with prior low-level marijuana offenses could have those removed from their record.

Walz has pledged to sign the bill if it reaches him. “Trying to get legalization does not mean promoting people to use it. It’s a recognition that it’s out there,” Walz said earlier this year.

Additionally, Walz’s biennial budget included paying for a new board to streamline the process for wiping past convictions off records. Some expungements for low-level offenses would be automatic, while the board would work on convictions that need extra examination and lead to possible resentencing.


After being elected to a second term, Walz promised “the largest investment in public education in Minnesota’s history.” DFL lawmakers also made it a top goal to boost funding to public schools while offsetting costs associated with special education and English learner programs.

Funding and credits

Most state aid to schools flows through the per-pupil funding formula.

Walz proposed adding 4 percent to the per-pupil school funding formula this year, another 2 percent the following year and then automatically tying future spending increases to the inflation rate.  That’s similar to the approach taken in the House.

The Senate has countered with a 4 percent boost followed by a 5 percent bump with no automatic increases beyond then.

All of the proposals also increase the state’s share of special education funding and other programs that have become more costly to school districts.

Walz has also proposed creating a child tax credit for low income families that would amount to $1,000 per child with a maximum credit of $3,000. The credit would apply to families earning $50,000 or less. Similar proposals are in the works in the Legislature as well.

Meals for all

Minnesota became the fourth state in the country to provide free breakfasts and lunches to students at participating schools after Gov. Tim Walz signed the universal school meals bill into law.

Many — but not all — students in Minnesota qualify for free and reduced-price meals already. That program was based on household income, and if families are below a certain threshold their students could receive school meals for free or for a reduced price.

Providing the meals at no cost to all students will cost the state almost $400 million in the first two years, and that price tag would grow in the future. The new funding covers the cost of meals, but not of second helpings or of separate a la carte items.


So far this year, lawmakers have approved and Walz has signed into law a $50 million proposal to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to offer financial help to homeless Minnesotans or those at risk of becoming homeless.

Coming out of the pandemic and a phase of growing housing instability, that’s just a start, housing and homelessness prevention groups say.

Walz and DFL leaders last month agreed to a $1 billion budget target for housing initiatives, which represents about ninefold boost from existing funding levels.

Omnibus housing bills include big spending boosts for affordable housing infrastructure, a first-time homeowner assistance down payment fund, rent assistance and additional funding to help seniors and disabled people find and keep their homes.

Lawmakers have also advanced a proposal to raise the metro area sales tax by 1/4 cent to fund rent assistance, as well as city and county aid.


For the first time in years, legislation to restrict guns is moving ahead in the Minnesota Senate.

Much of what’s being proposed has been brought up before in Minnesota. What’s changed is that Democrats now control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. With a change in partisan control of the Senate, three bills have a decent chance of becoming law.

The first bill would expand criminal background checks on firearms transfers, requiring more documentation around private transactions when those aren’t between family members.

The second bill, sometimes called a “red flag” proposal, would allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people found to be dangerous to themselves and others through what are known as extreme risk protection orders.

The third bill would increase prison sentences for those possessing a machine gun or short-barreled shotgun.

Supporters say the measures would reduce gun violence and prevent suicides, which represent a majority of gun deaths.

Gun-rights advocates oppose the legislation and say Minnesota’s problem with gun violence is the result of prosecutors’ failure to enforce laws that are already on the books.

If the bills pass — some Democrats in the 34-33 Senate are still noncommittal — Walz has said he would sign them.


After two years of failing to pass a capital investment bill, lawmakers arrived at the Capitol in January with more than $5 billion in requests for local jobs and projects around the state.

Democrats and Republicans in the House quickly approved two bills that would authorize the state to borrow $1.5 billion and put up $393 million in cash to pay for wastewater treatment centers, bridge repairs, college and university building projects and more.

But the plan fell short in the Senate, where Republicans said the bill should to be tied to tax cuts.

Bonding package

Democrats in both chambers have said they’ll keep up efforts to win Republican backing for the bonding package but have refused to tie it to tax cuts.

They’ve also set budget targets that include more than $3 billion in cash that could be used for capital investment. Using cash rather than asking to approve bond sales for the projects would require a simple majority in each chamber, so they would not need GOP support.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved and the governor signed another measure related to infrastructure funding. More about that here:

Highway funding

The Minnesota House signed into law the bill that funds the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act for state road construction, reconstruction and improvement.


Lawmakers are working on various proposals to guarantee time off, whether it’s for a short-term illness or a long-term issue.

Paid leave

In February, the House passed a bill that would allow Minnesota workers to accumulate earned sick and safe time to take care of themselves or a loved one. As many as 900,000 Minnesota workers could benefit from the change. This bill includes part-time workers and sets a penalty for those who fail to honor the time off under specified conditions. Senate action is likely soon.

Both chambers — along with the Walz administration — are working on an even bigger proposition. That would create a state-managed paid family and medical leave program that wouldn’t depend on where a person works.

It’s an expansive and expensive proposal. Through a new payroll tax, employees and employers would pay into an account. It would be tapped for partial wage replacement when a person takes up to 12 weeks off for caregiving of a sick family member or bond with a child after birth or adoption. People could also qualify for up to 12 weeks to tend their own serious illness. Current versions would limit the total time off in a calendar year to 20 weeks, although backers insist that duration would be rare.

Walz and legislative leaders have agreed to use nearly $669 million from the budget surplus to start the program. The payroll tax would begin a couple of years later once benefits start to flow.

Lawmakers are also discussing ways to make child care more affordable. Dozens of bills are still under consideration, but this is an area of bipartisan consensus.