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Walz, leaders preview coming debate on key issues

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Gov. Tim Walz and top House and Senate leaders discussed several key issues during a 2019 session preview. Tim Pugmire|MPR News.

Believing early action will help build momentum for more contentious budget debates to come later, Gov. Tim Walz and top legislative leaders pledged Monday to reach agreement quickly this session on some noncontroversial bills and pass them into law.

“I think that’s the right thing to do,” Walz said during a briefing with reporters hosted by Forum News Service.

Walz said the potential candidates for early action include provisions aimed at fighting elder abuse and opioid addiction that were left unresolved last session. A measure to free up money earmarked for election security is also on the list.

The governor and leaders also predicted quick action this session on a hands-free device requirement for using cell phones while driving.

“I do think we have a good chance to pass something,” said DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

Lawmakers are not in as big a rush to revisit legislation to line up the state tax code with recent federal changes. Last session, they wanted the tax conformity in place by this tear’s filing season. But state revenue officials have already taken steps to help taxpayers navigate the differences.

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said she wants to give a break to state residents who do not benefit from the federal changes.

“We have to look at how the burdens and benefits were distributed at the federal level and then look at doing some justice and providing fairness here at the Minnesota level,” Hortman said.

Hortman and many of her House DFL colleagues are pushing for gun control this session. They want criminal background checks required for all firearms sales. They also want to allow a court to temporarily take the guns of someone deemed a danger to themselves or others.

The gun proposals face strong resistance in the Republican Senate. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the gun discussion in the Senate this session will be comprehensive.

“Not just gun laws or future gun laws, but also the benefits of those that own gun shops and the benefits those that like to hunt,” Gazelka said.

Gazelka said legislation to address school safety and mental illness is more likely than any gun control this session.

Gazleka and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt used the occasion to push Walz toward a decision on the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce filed the appeal last month, before Walz took office. It challenges the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the project.

“I would very strongly urge the new governor to withdraw the appeal,” Daudt said. “This is a project that makes a ton of sense.”

Walz said his administration is reviewing the matter and will soon make a decision.

“There is always the potential in our system—and it’s healthy—to have judicial review or that capacity to go in if it’s warranted. If it’s not, then you continue to move forward,” he said. “So, we are just at an evaluation and a review stage right now.”