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DFL state House majority hopes to start new session where old one ended

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The full House Chamber.
Minnesota lawmakers are planning to begin the 2019 legislative session by revisiting some issues that didn't make it across the finish line last session.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

When lawmakers return to St. Paul next month, Rep. Laurie Halverson is ready to move quickly on a key issue. Halverson, DFL-Eagan, wants to head off a pending budget cut for programs that help disabled Minnesotans.

"Home and community-based services are facing a 7 percent cut because of some interpretation of laws at the state and federal level. So, we need to make sure that we're protecting home and community-based service workers."

Secretary of State Steve Simon is imploring lawmakers to allow his office to spend federal money already allocated to improve election security in Minnesota.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said he isn't sure how he'll respond to a White House panel's request for voter data, on June 29, 2017 in his office in St. Paul.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

"All we need is two sentences of permission slip language from the Legislature. We're asking for no money. It's federal money. We're asking for permission to use the money."

Lawmakers passed both measures last session with broad support. But they were included in a 989-page supplemental budget bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed. Dayton scolded Republican House and Senate leaders at the time for putting good provisions in the bill with many things he found objectionable.

With a new DFL majority taking charge in the House, incoming Speaker Melissa Hortman says she wants to resurrect the good parts.

"In the last four years, we saw really bad legislative process, where many unrelated items were shoved together at the end of session. It put things that are noncontroversial at risk with things that were very controversial."

Hortman mentioned the caregiver and elections language as examples of provisions worth salvaging. She was reluctant to list more, saying instead that it will be up to individual committee chairs to decide.

"What are the provisions that are truly noncontroversial and that we should be able to pass in January with just having a hearing or a small amount of process? So, we'll be looking to the wisdom of our chairs."

Republicans in the state Senate are taking a similar approach. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he has been talking to Hortman about it and that an agreement could help build some early momentum in the new session.

"In that spending bill there were things related to elder abuse and elections, safe schools, opioids. So, a bunch of areas that we both agree that we want to get done. And if we agree on the language now, why not do it sooner? So, that's what we're going to try to do."

Given the criticism of last session's bundling of spending and policy provisions in one bill, Gazelka said he's willing to take a different approach. He said the early bills will likely move one at a time.

"The ones that we can move together that way are areas we agree on right now. If we don't, then we won't do them right away and will work on them towards the end."

Governor-elect Tim Walz answers questions
Governor-elect Tim Walz answers questions inside the Minnesota State Capitol alongside his wife Gwen Walz, left, and Lt. Governor-elect Peggy Flanagan, right, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

DFL Governor-elect Tim Walz is also on board. He says some early action on bills would show Minnesotans that they can get things done. But Walz, who will be sworn in on Jan. 7, said he doesn't want to get into specific issues until he gets his cabinet in place and can talk about details with legislative leaders.

"I don't want to set expectations at a place where that may send us sideways," he said. "I definitely think that in conversations we've had with people there should be things we find in there."