MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota House Democrats unveiled their first priorities of the 2021 legislative session on Wednesday, a package of five bills to assist workers, families and small businesses struggling due to the ongoing pandemic.
The legislation includes an economic security bill that would provide housing assistance to renters and homeowners, $500 payments to low-income families, and broadband expansion for unserved and underserved parts of the state.
A worker protection bill would offer paid leave to health care workers, workers’ compensation for school employees who contract COVID-19 and an increase in unemployment insurance for Social Security recipients, who receive lower benefits than other workers when they lose their jobs..
The package also includes a bill that would boost testing and vaccination efforts at long-term care facilities, as well as bills aiming to reduce opportunity gaps at schools statewide and deliver child care grants to working parents.
“The agenda we're announcing today isn't an exhaustive list of our goals, but represent some concrete steps that we can take right now to solve the many urgent challenges that are facing Minnesotans,” said Deputy House Majority Leader Liz Olson, of Duluth.
Lawmakers are facing a smaller-than-expected $1.3 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year budget and a projected surplus of $641 million in the current budget that runs through June 30, pending an updated forecast next month. The Legislature is required by law to come to terms on a balanced two-year budget, which is expected to total around $50 billion. The legislative session ends in May.
The package contrasts with the priorities of the GOP-controlled Senate, which include rolling back Gov. Tim Walz's emergency powers, election integrity legislation and preventing tax increases.
Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, said that while the two parties differ on their legislative priorities, public support for the proposals could bring the two sides into agreement, citing a nearly $2 billion critical infrastructure bill passed with bipartisan support in October and policing overhaul legislation from the summer.
“None of those accomplishments started easy. They started in a very different place and they were strongly supported by the public and that's when Senate Republicans moved,” he said. “I think this agenda is squarely on the mind of Minnesotans ... and this is what we should be doing.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.