Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2023 Legislative Session was a transformational time for Minnesota. There were numerous major accomplishments that will improve the lives of people in every corner of Minnesota.
In all my years of reporting to constituents at the end of each legislative session, I have never before been able to say that the legislature did so much truly remarkable work.
The 2022 elections brought in many new, much more diverse, legislators – importantly, people who believe that government needs to address the challenges facing society, not ignore them. As one who has been pushing for more aggressive action to address climate, to deliver healthcare for all, to reform our public safety system, etc., I was thrilled to see many new colleagues with this same, enthusiastic “can-do” approach.
For the first time in almost a decade, the Senate, the House, and the Governor were DFL-led. Not only did we block Republican efforts to take away reproductive rights and move us backwards on climate policy and gun violence, but we were able to move forward – enacting a bold, ambitious agenda to address big issues facing our communities.
This included long-needed policies such as Paid Family and Medical Leave for workers, restoring the vote for previously incarcerated individuals, significant gun violence prevention legislation, and lots of smaller accomplishments.
There were historic investments in education, long-term care and nursing homes, housing, childcare, and the largest capital investment bill in Minnesota’s history.
In addition, we protected the rights of Minnesotans by passing the Democracy for the People Act to strengthen voting rights, a Trans Refuge Bill and a Conversion Therapy ban to protect LGTBQ+ community members, and the PRO Act to guarantee the right to reproductive health care.
While we celebrate this progress, there is much more work to do. I look forward to working with my constituents, my colleagues, and everyone across our state to move Minnesota forward.
Public Safety & Gun Violence Prevention
The legislature took a multi-faceted approach to public safety this year – recognizing the need to support, and equally importantly, to reform law enforcement. We passed legislation assisting crime victims and adopted legislation to prevent carjackings and other violent crime. For example, the legislature provided resources to Ramsey County to establish secure treatment homes for dealing with serious juvenile repeat offenders, as well as funding to intervene with young people and their families in violence prevention and conflict and crisis de-escalation initiatives.
The right to high-quality public education is a core value to Minnesotans – it is constitutionally required – because it is essential to a healthy future. This year, the state made historic investments in education, catching up on years of underfunding.
As part of this, Minnesota is working to ensure that no student in Minnesota goes hungry. Students do not learn effectively on an empty stomach. Now, all students will have access to breakfast and lunch at school, improving both their health and their ability to learn.
In higher education, the “North Star Promise” legislation will provide a free college tuition for approximately 20,000 students from working families attending two- or four-year programs with Minnesota State or the University of Minnesota system.
The powerful impact of making higher education more affordable in Minnesota is illustrated by comments from the North Dakota State University President about “catastrophic implications” to his school due to a loss of Minnesota students now that those Minnesota students can afford to get their degrees here in Minnesota. This legislation will help higher education campuses across Minnesota and obviously, the students who can get an education without accumulating excessive student debt.
For too long, our economic system has favored corporate interests and the wealthy. The 2023 legislature prioritized worker empowerment and safety including:
- Paid Family and Medical Leave: creating a statewide program giving Minnesota workers paid time off to care for themselves, bond with a newborn, or care for loved ones.
- Earned Sick and Safe Time: prioritizing worker health without sacrificing one’s paycheck.
- Ban of Non-Compete Agreements and Captive Audience Meetings: giving workers the power to make their own choices in the workplace.
- Warehouse Worker Safety: stronger safety regulations to protect workers at large warehouses.
- Wage Theft Prevention: closing loopholes in the law to ensure that workers get the pay they earned.
Legalization of Adult-Use Cannabis
Cannabis will be legal for adult-use in Minnesota beginning in August. The legislation creates a regulatory framework and market for cannabis – a complex and challenging task, given decades in which there were severe criminal consequences for some users, especially among communities of color.
It is long overdue that we shut down the dangerous illegal market, which has caused more crime in our communities and deaths among people using adulterated cannabis purchased on the street. The law will provide immediate access to expungement of low-level criminal convictions for cannabis crimes, which will help clear the records of more than 60,000 Minnesotans. Black Minnesotans were more than four times as likely as white users to be arrested and criminally charged, showing how our cannabis prohibition has been a major contributor to Minnesota’s continuing racial disparities.
As with alcohol and other drugs, cannabis needs responsible regulation, and the new Minnesota law strikes a balance that protects all Minnesotans as we undo the harm of decades of prohibition.
Healthcare is a human right. As a long-time proponent of healthcare for all, with no exceptions, I will continue to fight for passage of my proposed Minnesota Health Plan.
Fortunately, the 2023 legislature is funding a comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of providing comprehensive healthcare to every Minnesotan. The study will compare the costs and benefits of the proposed Minnesota Health Plan to our current costly, dysfunctional system. No state has ever conducted such a study.
Our current system attempts to save money by putting barriers between people and the care they need, but those barriers have, ironically, given us a healthcare system that costs more than twice what most other competing nations pay per person, while giving us worse health outcomes.
By establishing a healthcare system aimed at improving health and making sure all people get the care they need, we can improve public health and save money by eliminating the bureaucratic system which puts those supposedly “cost-saving” barriers in place.
While we prepare to move forward on that, I am pleased that the legislature is working to reduce out of pocket costs for patients, expanding MinnesotaCare for low-income undocumented Minnesotans, and working to remove obstacles to receiving healthcare. There were also important provisions passed that aim to stop price gouging by drug companies and pharmacy benefit managers.
Fundamental rights and freedoms are under attack across the country, with extreme legislatures and judges passing or overturning laws that put the health and well being of people at risk.
Reproductive healthcare, including access to abortion, was protected by the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, now in Minnesota law.
The legislature also took bold action to protect the rights of LGTBQ+ Minnesotans. Legislation that I began pushing over ten years ago – to end the harmful practice of “conversion therapy” for minors was finally signed into law this year.
The Trans Refuge Act was another necessary measure to protect transgender Minnesotans and those who come here to escape other states that have recently passed laws to harm them. This legislation assures the right to gender-affirming care for those who seek it.
Investing in the Needs of Minnesotans
Most of the state’s unprecedented budget surplus was one-time money – much of it being the result of federal funds to address the COVID crisis. As Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked with my colleagues to address urgent needs in Minnesota while developing a sustainable on-going budget.
One-time money cannot be used for programs and services that are needed on a continuing basis. This year’s budget was designed to be balanced, not only in the two-year budget cycle that began this month, but also in the two years after that. Consequently, the one-time money was used to make key investments in Minnesota’s future. This included:
- Historic one-time investment of $1 billion in Housing and Homelessness Prevention, including the construction of affordable housing and emergency rental assistance.
- Funding for the removal of lead service lines for residential drinking water across the state, totaling $240 million.
- State matching funds to unlock federal money for economic development and infrastructure investments.
- $400 million in direct funding to stabilize long-term care and bolster the long-term care workforce.
- Over $1 billion of one-time funds to go along with $1.6 billion in bonding in a capital investment package to address statewide needs and preserve state assets.
Improving the Legislative Process
Working alongside Rep. Liz Olson, my counterpart who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, we committed to developing state budget “targets” early in the session. This was designed to prevent the last-minute logjam that occurs year after year.
Under the traditional schedule, both House and Senate Committees put together their budget bills during the session but are then forced to wait to resolve (often major) differences in conference committees until legislative leaders and the governor agreed to budget targets, usually at the very end of the session. This led to rushed work, and frequently, special sessions because the legislature was unable to finish before the constitutionally determined deadline.
Our initiative to create a more thoughtful process led to the adoption of joint budget targets between the House, Senate, and Governor on March 21st – almost two months earlier than in recent years. This allowed budget committees and the conference committees to get more public input and develop their budgets in a more timely, deliberative manner.
Countless important accomplishments
The accomplishments of the 2023 session are too many to discuss here, but in addition to those mentioned above, here is a sampling of others:
- 100% Clean Energy: Moving to 100% clean power generation by 2040 to address climate and improve air quality.
- Rental Assistance: $50 million in emergency relief for people who are struggling to keep their families safely housed.
- Catalytic Converter Theft: After four years of effort, my legislation to crack down on catalytic converter theft passed. It provides law enforcement tools to go after perpetrators and holds scrapyard dealers and those who traffic in stolen merchandise accountable.
- Juneteeth: This new state holiday recognizes the end of slavery and acknowledges that the actions on the original July 4th did not grant independence to all Americans.
- Consumer Protection:
- A ban on price gouging during emergency situations
- End of predatory lending practices with the usurious interest charged by payday lenders.
- Right to Repair legislation requiring companies to share information so people can repair cell phones and other products rather than throw them out.
- Drivers Licenses for All: Minnesota is finally restoring the old law in which people without immigration documentation can get drivers licenses. This will improve public safety and enable workers to get to their jobs, pick up their children from school, etc.
- Restore the Vote: Minnesotans who’ve served their time will be able to vote after release from prison.
- Democracy for the People: Protecting democracy and the right to vote, stopping harassment of voters and election officials.
- Earned Safe and Sick Time: No worker should have to risk their health or that of their coworkers when they are sick.
- Caregiver compensation: Expensive, but long-overdue pay increases for caregivers – people who serve others deserve decent pay. The legislature took a big step forward to address this issue and the resulting shortage of workers.
- Ending TEFRA fees: parents of children with disabilities will no longer need to pay huge fees for their children to get medical care.
Please continue to reach out to me or my staff: Elspeth Cavert, my committee administrator (email@example.com 651-296-5640) and Killian Becker, my legislative assistant (firstname.lastname@example.org 651-296-6545)