Capitol roundup: Voter ID, gun regulations, budget surplus

Rows of people sit in chairs within the state capitol building.
New citizens wave flags after taking the oath of citizenship at the State Capitol to 51 new citizens Wednesday. From welcoming new U.S. citizens to voter ID to $1.5 billion budget surplus, here are some of the highlights from the Legislature this week.
Brian Bakst | MPR News file

It was another busy week at the Capitol. Here are some of the highlights — from voter ID to gun regulations:

Voter ID

A Minnesota Senate panel has advanced a Republican-backed measure to require voters to show photo identification when casting a ballot.

Members of the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections committee voted 5-4 Thursday along party lines to send the bill next to the Transportation Committee.

Supporters of the voter ID bill are trying to do legislatively what they failed to accomplish in 2012 as a constitutional amendment. Voters that year rejected the proposal by 139,128 votes.

Budget surplus

The state of Minnesota is expected to have a budget surplus of $1.513 billion over the next two years, the state’s budget office predicted Thursday.

This is an increase from the $1.3 billion surplus that was predicted in December.

Lawmakers will use the $1.5 billion forecast as the basis for a revised budget in the current legislative session. Going from a large surplus to a slightly larger surplus didn’t change the dynamic at the Capitol, where Democrats want to spend more on education and Republicans back tax cuts.

Gun regulations

Democrats in the Minnesota House have again passed two gun-control measures that they contend state residents are demanding. The bills were part of a larger public safety bill that the House passed last session. The Republican Senate never took them up.

One bill expands background checks to more types of firearms sales. The other allows for law enforcement officials to use extreme risk protection orders to take guns away temporarily from people deemed dangerous.

Insulin affordability

Lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday night on a 75 to 52 vote to provide insulin to Minnesotans who are unable to afford it. The insulin bill would require drug manufacturers to pay a new fee. Eligible patients would gain access to emergency insulin and long-term supplies.

Voter data privacy

The Minnesota House passed a measure to protect the privacy of voters who participate in the state’s presidential primary. The vote on the bill was 72 to 55.

The primary privacy bill would allow a voter’s data to go only to the political party that the individual voted for. Other political parties would not get the data.

Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, said concerned voters need some reassurance before the primary.

“We’ve heard from many people that they’re probably not going to vote,” Dehn said.

Tobacco bills

A pair of tobacco-control measures advanced in the Minnesota Legislature with little opposition Wednesday while a third bill to outlaw flavored vape juices and menthol cigarettes prompted dire warnings on both sides of the debate.

Lawmakers from both parties and in both chambers are pushing for tougher tobacco laws this year, with some gaining a lift from recently enacted federal changes.

New citizens sworn in

Fifty-one of Minnesota’s newest U.S. citizens waved flags and recited the Pledge of Allegiance after being sworn in at the State Capitol on Wednesday.

They came from countries around the globe — almost every continent — and met federal requirements for naturalization. Whether it be for family, professional or other reasons, they settled in Minnesota and have lived here for at least three months, many much longer.

Federal Judge John Tunheim administered their oath and gave them a hearty welcome. Tunheim told the citizens and spectators in the Capitol rotunda that there have been 17,000 citizens naturalized in Minnesota in the last year.

Farm safety

A woman talks at a press conference at the State Capitol
Michele Gran, who calls herself a "momma on a mission," speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday in support of a farm safety funding proposal by Gov. Tim Walz, far left. Standing next to her is her husband, David Gran, who held a picture of their son, Landon Gran, who was 18 when he died in a grain bin accident on their farm near St. Peter last August.
Steve Karnowski | AP Photo

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday proposed reimbursing farmers who retrofit their tractors with rollover protection or install safety equipment in their grain bins in an effort to reduce farm accidents.

The governor was joined at a news conference by Michele Gran, whose 18-year-old son, Landon, was killed in a grain bin accident on their farm near St. Peter last August.

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