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DFL takes reins of Minnesota government as 2023 legislative session gavels in

Democrats have complete control of state government for the first time since 2014 — only the second time in more than 30 years.

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Lawmakers, activists and lobbyists milled around the Minnesota Capitol rotunda Tuesday, Jan. 3, as the Legislature prepared to reconvene for the 2023 session.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Tuesday returned to a very different climate at the Capitol as they gaveled in the 2023 legislative session.

Masks have all but disappeared from faces in the halls and rotunda after years of pandemic concerns, and the balance of power has shifted, too, after Democrats won a majority in the Senate in November.

For the first time since 2014, Democrats have complete control of state government — only the second time in more than 30 years. That means they’ll be able to pursue plans to increase funding for education, create a paid family and medical leave program and codify abortion protections into law without having to make major compromises with Republicans.

While Gov. Tim Walz and fellow Democrats in the Legislature share many priorities, the governor and First Lady Gwen Walz stopped by the Senate and House chambers Tuesday morning with pumpkin blondie bars to make sure the session kicked off with a “sweet start.”

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Gov. Tim Walz shares pumpkin blondies with House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, and Deputy Minority Leader Paul Torkelson, a representative from Hanska.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Last year, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan presented lawmakers with lemon bars, but with a divided legislature, the 2022 session ended with very little accomplished. This year, Walz is said he is optimistic his second term plan to significantly boost funding for education and other programs will win over members of the Legislature.

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What’s ahead?

In the coming months, the Legislature has to get an over $50 billion state budget together for the next two years, as the current biennial budget ends June 30. State government runs out of funding and shuts down if the governor doesn’t sign budget bills into law by that date.

There’s a historic $17.6 billion projected budget surplus over which Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic-Farmer-Labor majorities in the Senate and House will have control over how it's spent. During his second inaugural address Monday, Walz vowed to put education, children and families at the center of his budget proposal.

The governor said he and fellow Democrats in the House and Senate will aim to make the largest investment in education in the state's history.

Boosting funding for education, day care programs and a leave program are general points the governor and DFL majorities generally agree upon. Finer details of the agenda will come into sharper focus when the governor releases his budget recommendations in January.

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Speaker Melissa Hortman presides over the Minnesota House of Representatives on Tuesday, Jan. 3, after being elected to another term in the position. Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, has held the position since 2019.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

The odds for legal adult-use marijuana and sports betting also appear to have improved with the new alignment at the Capitol, where Democrats have a 70-64 majority over Republicans in the House and a 34-33 majority in the Senate. Republicans had controlled the Senate since 2017.

Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, was cautious to say whether there is a pro-cannabis majority in the Senate, and while Walz said he would like to sign a legalization bill as soon as possible, it may take a while for any legislation to see movement in the Senate.

“I have heard from a lot of constituents that are in favor of it. I know other Minnesotans have told us that they support it,” Dziedzic said. “But I think we'll see how quickly that one moves because it's going to require a lot of conversations in different committees.”

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"For far too many of our young people the school cafeteria has been a place of shame and stigma," said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

While the Legislature will be in session until May, lawmakers, activists and interest groups have already hit the ground running with abortion rights and marijuana legalization.

The House Health Committee is scheduled Thursday to hold a hearing on a bill to protect abortion rights called the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act. House leadership has expressed a strong commitment to codifying abortion rights in state law, and with complete Democratic Party control of state government, the odds of such a bill making it to the governor’s desk appear higher than ever.

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Before the House and Senate reconvened at noon Tuesday, groups for and against the legalization of recreational marijuana held news conferences to state their cases.

State Rep. Jessica Hanson, DFL-Burnsville, held a news conference with Minnesotans Against Cannabis Prohibition to promote legalization efforts. Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization, a coalition of groups including the state insurance association and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, launched its effort to oppose a legalization bill.

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Moms Demand Action ralliers gather near the entrance of the Minnesota Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the first day of the 2023 legislative session.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Gun control group Moms Demand Action, as well as supporters of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment into Minnesota’s Constitution, also held rallies at the Capitol. Moms Demand Action rallies gathered outside the Senate and House chambers ahead of lawmakers reconvening.

One-third of the Legislature is newly elected members, and one of the first orders of business Tuesday was for new members to take their oaths of office.

Members also formally designated their leaders in the House and Senate. The House DFL Caucus in November decided to keep Rep. Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, as speaker. Rep. Jaime Long, DFL-Minneapolis, has been tapped to replace outgoing Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. Dziedzic is heading the newly elected DFL majority in the Senate.

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DFL Sen. Bobby Joe Champion presided over the Senate after being sworn in as the first Black Senate President Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.
Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune pool photo

Minneapolis Sen. Bobby Joe Champion was sworn in as the state's first Black president of the Senate.

Meanwhile, the GOP minority in the Senate selected East Grand Forks Sen. Mark Johnson as leader. Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, will serve as the new minority leader, replacing longtime caucus leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, of Crown.

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This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. Jan. 3 with additional photos and details from the first day of the session. It was originally posted at 12:06 p.m. Jan. 3.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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