Minnesota’s top lawmakers posed for a selfie and talked up their strong working relationship Tuesday as they previewed the coming legislative session.
The chummy behavior was in sharp contrast to the past eight months of fighting each other in court. Lawmakers have clashed legally over funding for legislative staff, the governor’s veto powers and whether the president of the Senate can also serve as lieutenant governor.
But Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt say they’ve moved beyond their past squabbles.
“I think that we can work together. … I think the issues that we will deal with this session kind of transcend partisan politics,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “My hope is we can put that stuff aside and really work on problems Minnesotans care about.”
Kicking off our Pre-Session media briefing with Governor Dayton! pic.twitter.com/NHB8maXX6q
— Kurt Daudt (@kdaudt) February 13, 2018
There’s a lot on the agenda when the session begins Feb. 20, and plenty of it could get political.
Lawmakers want to address how recent federal changes to tax policy will affect Minnesotans, they hope to pass a public works construction bill and they will decide if they want to spend an anticipated budget surplus.
“Everybody in Minnesota has a stake in what we can accomplish,” Dayton said.
HOW WILL GOP’S SLIM SENATE MAJORITY PLAY OUT?
The path to agreement is most tenuous in the Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority that’s been challenged in court. If Senate President Michelle Fischbach is pushed out of her seat to replace Tina Smith as lieutenant governor, the chamber will be tied 33-33 until she is replaced.
Dayton named Smith to the U.S. Senate in December to replace Al Franken.
Gazelka, R-Nisswa, isn’t too worried about his slim majority. He noted that during the 2017 session, senators were able to work together to approve tax breaks and relief for health insurance costs.
He expects the same sort of partnerships will emerge to address the most pressing issues facing the state this year.
“That doesn’t happen unless you have some sense of respect for each other and knowing we all want to do what’s right for Minnesota; I think we will,” Gazelka said.
WHICH POLICY ISSUES TAKE CENTER STAGE?
Besides finances, the Legislature also needs to tackle policy.
Lawmakers are expected to overhaul how they deal with allegations of sexual misconduct after two members were forced to resign last year. To start, House members are required to attend a full day of implicit bias and sexual harassment training on the second day of session or risk losing their committee assignments.
There is also ongoing pressure to improve the state’s system for protecting senior citizens and residents of assisted-living facilities. A task force recently recommended sweeping policy changes and new laws after it was revealed the state Department of Health wasn’t investigating the majority of abuse reports.
Republicans and Democrats are expected to come at nearly all these issues in different ways. House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, believes that’s a good thing.
“The system is designed for their to be conflict. The idea is the clash of ideas will result in the best compromise for Minnesotans,” Hortman said. “People shouldn’t confuse our disagreements about policy with personal dislike for one another.”