House DFL top priorities include health care, education and gun measures

First 10 bills
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler highlighted 10 priority bills for the 2019 session. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Members of the new DFL majority in the Minnesota House released a package of legislative proposals Wednesday that they say are designed to improve peoples’ lives.

Their first 10 bills of the 2019 session include a MinnesotaCare buy-in option for health care coverage, paid family leave, and criminal background checks for all gun purchases. There are also bills related to aimed reducing prescription drug prices, public education, wage theft, sexual harassment and rural broadband expansion.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, described the bills as a “snapshot” of issues that need additional work in the months ahead.

“We are talking about the needs of Minnesotans, regardless of whether or not it can pass this session or this biennium, in the next two years, four years, six years, eight years,” Winkler said. “These are the needs of Minnesotans. And that is why we are bringing this agenda forward.”

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House DFL leaders say their “Minnesota Values Agenda” was developed last year after a series of listening sessions throughout the state. They released an initial plan based on the input back in September.

The first 10 bills, which will be formally introduced Thursday, include a measure aimed at stopping wage theft. Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said too many employers are getting away with shortchanging their workers.

“We’re going to make it illegal to steal from your employees in this state,” Mahoney said.

Another gun control proposal is what's known as a "red flag" law, which would allow a court to temporarily block a person deemed a danger to themselves or others from access to firearms. Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, said extreme risk protection orders would help prevent some shootings.

“When family members or law enforcement see clear red flags, they should be able to do something about them,” Richardson said.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday highlighted a competing package of five bills that contrast sharply with the House DFL plan.

Still, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he was encouraged that both plans are out and the House and Senate are ready to get to work.

“We may not see eye to eye on everything, but both parties have some good ideas and at the very least good intentions," Gazelka said.

House Republicans were more critical of the DFL bills.

Deputy House Minority Leader Anne Neu, R-North Branch, said she was disappointed there was no talk of tax cuts, given the state’s $1.5 billion budget surplus.

“It is really concerning that right out of the gate the Democrats are proposing increasing the cost of health care,” Neu said.

A recently-organized breakaway group of House Republicans also slammed the plan.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, took issue with the two DFL gun control proposals, which he called “irresponsible.” He said they would infringe on Second Amendment rights and take away a person’s ability to protect themselves.

“Those proposals are actually going to make Minnesotans less safe instead of more safe,” Drazkowski said.