First day of Minnesota legislative session: Guns, insulin and a cooperative tone

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Minnesota State House representatives stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Minnesota State House representatives stood for the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the legislative session Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, at the State Capitol in St. Paul.
Anthony Souffle | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 4:41 p.m.

The first day of the legislative session was largely ceremonial, but a few House committees went to work Tuesday on key issues, including insulin access.

Preview of the 2020 legislative session
by Brian Bakst

Between now and May, the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate will debate insulin, along with marijuana, taxes, voter privacy, public safety and more.

They’ll also attempt to pass a construction projects bill that needs a three-fifths majority to pass, plus DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s signature.

Here are a few of the things that happened on the session’s first day:

  • Both the House and Senate held short floor sessions. Both chambers paused to remember the National Guard members killed in a December helicopter crash, which remains under investigation. Lawmakers also introduced dozens of new bills, but few of them are likely to pass during the shorter, election-year session. Some random introductions: A four-year waiting period for legislators to become lobbyists, requiring children’s meals to include a default beverage that’s healthy, a sales tax exemption for headstones.

    picture of woman on Senate floor
    Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, pauses following the first floor session of the 2020 legislative session on Tuesday.
    Tim Pugmire | MPR News
  • Advocates and opponents of copper-nickel mining held separate events at the Capitol. Minneapolis-based Interfaith Power and Light, a religious-based environmental advocacy group, handed over a petition in the governor's office signed by more than 200 faith leaders saying the mining project represented a grave threat to water quality and the rights of Indian tribes in northern Minnesota.

    “Minnesotans are going to be left with a legacy of pollution that they have to clean up, while this company, a multinational corporation, takes the profit and leaves and doesn't serve Minnesotans,” said Buff Grace, who wrote the letter.

    Meanwhile, PolyMet has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision to send several permits the company needs to build the mine back to the DNR for additional hearings. PolyMet supporters say they hope the Supreme Court will take the case.

    “Every time a business follows a process and seeks to meet environmental standards put in place and then faces seemingly unlimited litigation and additional regulatory delay, it creates uncertainty and it hurts the business climate here in Minnesota, and ultimately our state's reputation,” said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

  • House members heard legislation aimed at improving accessibility and affordability of insulin. The big hang-up to a House-Senate compromise is who pays both for getting emergency dosages to people in an immediate crisis and to help them afford insulin for longer periods. An emergency insulin bill advanced on a 12-7 committee vote Tuesday and more hearings are planned in the coming days. Senate Republicans have their own competing plan.

    Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, said it’s an urgent issue: “Since the last legislative session ended when we didn’t pass this bill, two Minnesotans have lost their lives that we know about from rationing their insulin. So, this is deadly serious. And the House is taking an aggressive path forward to pass this bill as soon as we can because lives are literally at stake.”

  • The House Capital Investment Committee held a morning hearing on the $2 billion bonding bill recommended by DFL Gov. Tim Walz. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans made a case for the size of the borrowing package.

    “Our goal is to make sure that we include the right projects in this proposal, and that we work with the legislature to come up with a bonding bill that really serves all of Minnesota,” Frans said.

    man speaks in front of microphones
    Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, talks to reporters following the first floor session of the 2020 legislative session.
    Tim Pugmire | MPR News
  • The Senate didn’t have any committee hearings on Tuesday, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, both struck a cooperative tone.

    “If anybody doesn’t know, we’re in an election year, which means everything feels a little bit different. Every issue seems a little more heightened. But I don’t want us to forget the things we need to do to prosper Minnesota,” Gazelka said. Kent added: “There will be a lot of spirited debates and a lot of things to work through. But we’re committed to being here and getting the work done for the people of Minnesota.”

    gun control advocates in red shirts hold up signs
    Advocates of tougher gun laws lined the Capitol as lawmakers returned to work on Tuesday in St. Paul. Some passed out homemade cookies and applauded lawmakers supportive of their cause.
    Brian Bakst | MPR News
  • Gun-control advocates gathered at the Capitol to remind lawmakers where they stand. They want action on expanded background checks and a new law to temporarily take guns from people deemed dangerous.

    “We’re showing our numbers. We’re letting our legislators know that we’re paying attention to how they vote on these issues or don’t vote on these issues. We’re just showing up at the beginning and will be here through the session,” said Molly Leutz of Minneapolis, who is with the group Moms Demand Action. Gun rights supporters were also on hand.

    "Disarming the people will not disarm criminals. And children and innocent people who can’t defend themselves will continue to be killed if we strip away our 2nd Amendment rights,” said Ben Dorr with the group Minnesota Gun Rights, which opposes both gun-control bills.

    Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairs the Senate judiciary and public safety committee and has been reluctant in the past to take up gun bills. But he said he welcomes the input from both sides. “There’s a lot of passion on both sides of the issue. The governor talks about a ‘one Minnesota.’ But on this issue, it’s definitely a two Minnesota approach by what I’ve seen out in the public,” he said.

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this story.