Minnesota lawmakers begin 2023 legislative session

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(ABC 6 News) – Lawmakers were back to work Tuesday at the state capitol for the start of the 2023 legislative session. State leaders swore in the most diverse Minnesota legislature yet, with the first transgender and the first non-binary legislators, along with 35 lawmakers of color.

For the first time since 2014, the DFL has control of both chambers and the governor’s office. Lawmakers have to decide what to do with a $17.6 billion budget surplus, and draft a two-year budget.

Agendas for the astounding $17.6 billion are different for each party. Republicans want more permanent, ongoing tax relief. Democrats are more focused on one-time spending.

Lawmakers local to Southeast Minnesota on both sides of the aisle agree that we’ll likely need a little bit of both.

Senator Liz Boldon (DFL – Rochester) echoed what many legislators said Tuesday. Spending the surplus should be some combination of one-time spending and long-term investment.

“One time spending to help folks right now, and then looking to the future…how do we do that looking forward?” Boldon said.

Other local DFL representatives mentioned funding early childhood programs, education, paid family medical leave and disability services as priorities.

Republican lawmakers partially agree.

“I would like to see mostly some permanent tax relief but I think there are some areas that we can give relief in other ways. Nursing homes and group homes, they are on the verge of closing,” said Rep. Peggy Bennett (R- Albert Lea).

Representative Patricia Mueller (R – Austin) and other Republicans said that despite being in the minority this session, they will try and steer DFLers towards tax reform.

“This is obscene,” Mueller said of the budget surplus. “This is something that should be returned to the people in meaningful, permanent tax relief.”

Many came to the session prepared with bills already drafted and looking for hearings.

Senator Carla Nelson (R – Rochester) has a bill that got close to passing during the 2022 session that would eliminate taxes on social security benefits.

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“Minnesotans are struggling with high inflation, we saw Minnesota’s exodus from our state this year. We need to keep these older Minnesotans here, and stop the double taxation, as most other states have,” said Nelson.

First-time representative Andy Smith (DFL – Rochester) is on the health committee, which has a hearing scheduled for Thursday for a bill codifying the right to abortion into state law.

“Unfortunately the Supreme Court decided that was a state issue, but here in the state of Minnesota now that we have control as the DFL we are going to codify that immediately. So I’m so excited about that,” explained Smith.

2023 is considered a budget year, but lawmakers did not get a bonding bill passed during the 2022 session. So, many have said they will also try and pass a bonding bill early this session. A bonding bill would likely fund projects like a Highway 14 interchange near Rochester and updates to the wastewater treatment plant in Austin.