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New session opens amid calls for smoother process

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The full House Chamber in 2017.
Minnesota's 2019 legislative session began Tuesday under divided government with key leaders predicting a productive session that avoids partisan gridlock.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

Democrats began the 2019 legislative session in control of two of the three legs of the lawmaking apparatus at the Capitol.

Unlike the last session when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, Democrats took charge of the House for the first time in four years and now have a 75-59 seat advantage.

But even though government remains divided, leaders from both parties said they wanted to improve a process that has led in recent years to vetoes of big bills, government shutdowns and a tit-for-tat struggle over funding that resulted in the House and Senate filing a lawsuit against former Gov. Mark Dayton.

Newly-elected House Speaker Melissa Hortman said it is time for legislators to put the election behind them and take off their red and blue jerseys.

"We are not here to avoid conflict," Hortman said. "We are here to precisely have conflict. It's an important part of the democratic process. But if we can have the conflict with good humor and humility, we'll be better off and Minnesota will be better off."

In the Senate, Republicans enjoy a 34-32 advantage, pending the outcome of a special election on Feb. 5 in District 11.

The opening-day action included the election of Republican Jeremy Miller, of Winona, as the new Senate president.

Earlier in the day, Senate Republicans unveiled the first five bills they'll introduce later this week. Their proposals address mental health, health care costs, child care accessibility, government accountability and tax code simplification.

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he expects some early bipartisan action to resurrect parts of the last session's vetoed supplemental budget bill.

"It's important, I think, for the process for everybody to have some early wins. It's important for the governor to be signing bills," he said.

On his first full day in office, DFL Gov. Tim Walz kept a relatively low profile. But Walz told reporters that he plans to work toward a smooth working relationship with legislators by getting to know them better.

"I just think any effort to be able to do that, to make myself available, to sit down and be able to hear what the other side said. So, I think you'll see it in a social setting," he said.

Despite the opening day optimism, disagreements are looming over a host of issues, including transportation, health care and public safety.

As legislative leaders pledged to work together, gun control supporters gathered at the Capitol in large numbers to press their cause. Erin Zamoff, volunteer leader of the state chapter of Moms Demand Action, was among those on hand to urge the passage of legislation this year.

"It is time to act on background checks. It is time to act on red flag laws. It is time to act on these commonsense measures that will keep our kids and communities safe."

House Democrats are expected to highlight gun control proposals this week when they roll out their first 10 bills of the session.

But for the first day, some of 39 new members of the House were just taking it all in.

"When you look at the majesty of the building and you understand the awesome responsibility that you are taking on to represent the people of your community, it's a moment that's very hard to explain," said freshman Rep. Ginny Klevorn of Plymouth. "But it's just a wonder and excitement and opportunity and hope."