The charred earth of the 2014 MN legislative session

Minnesota's legislature convenes today for its 2014 session. A non-budget election year in which the capitol is under renovations portends an emotional but short session.

Minnesota’s legislature convenes today for its 2014 session. A non-budget election year in which the capitol is under renovations portends an emotional but short session.

The 2014 MN legislative session opens today in St. Paul amid the distinct sense that lawmakers in both parties would like to avoid having things get out of hand before this fall’s elections. That said, both Republicans and Democratic-Farmer-Laborites have distinct goals in this session.

The most agreed-upon goal is a bonding bill. Even years are traditional bonding years and rules for passage generally require bipartisan support, which means horse trading. Several northern Minnesota proposals are on the list, and legislators will spend a great deal of time hashing this out.

After that, there also appears to be some broad consensus that several of the “business to business” tax increases passed as part of the solution to last year’s budget deficit might be eliminated now that the state has turned the corner into a budget surplus. These were among the taxes fought hardest by pro-business groups which carry a lot of sway at the legislature.

Finally, the most controversial proposal that has a chance of passing the DFL-controlled House and Senate is a minimum wage increase. The state’s $6.15 minimum wage now lags behind the federal minimum, making Minnesota’s one of the lowest minimum wages in the country, and there is broad consensus in the DFL that some kind of wage increase is in the offing. There is almost total opposition from the GOP on this issue, on the grounds that increasing the minimum wage will burden businesses and slow or reverse job growth.

The real question for the minimum wage is what kind of number House and Senate leaders will agree on before sending the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton, who will certainly sign the best bill he gets. Minimum wage advocates have centered on a $9.50/hour “living” wage, which they believe will help people among the working poor better afford the housing, food, transportation and child care they need to survive, and put more wages back into the economy. Some Democrats, however, balk at that number, and remain nervous about treading too far past the federal minimum of $7.25, especially for small businesses. This will be the most contentious debate of the session.

There are a few other dark horse issues: An anti-bullying bill is still under consideration from last session. Conservative opposition groups are taking weird umbrage at the bill, and the subtext seems to be related to stanching the gay rights movement.

Iron Range Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) is leading a charge on legalizing forms of medical marijuana, citing the heartbreaking story of a family in her district whose child would benefit from certain THC-based medications. Gov. Dayton had vetoed a previous version of such a bill, and anything that passes would have to meet his approval.

And many, many smaller proposals to streamline this or that will emerge. It would not surprise me to see some kind of thinly worded pro-mining bill introduced by a Range or Republican lawmaker, but House and Senate DFLers (if they’re smart) will try to avoid a vote on a such a thing to avoid exposing the party’s divide on the sulfide mining issue. Theoretically there shouldn’t be any legislation needed this session, as the project is safely in the realm of permitting consideration. PolyMet, the first company in line to mine copper, nickel and other ores, isn’t asking for anything, at least publicly, so any bill introduced would likely be pure politics.

Here’s the reality of the situation. The entire state capitol will be torn asunder amid a massive remodeling project. Gov. Mark Dayton is recovering from a difficult hip surgery. Most GOP House members, as is custom for the minority, are wholly focused on the elections. House DFLers don’t want to do anything to harm their chances of winning, and are unlikely to take a chance on much partisan policy besides minimum wage. The Senate, which isn’t up for election, will bumble along lackadaisically. All of this portends for a simpler, shorter session. I don’t know if it will end early like some say, but that’s more possible than usual.


It is highly unlikely that a state like Minnesota would vote DFLers out of office because they made the minimum wage too high. Nor would GOPers be in a hurry to cut the wage should they be elected. There is no argument that our economy of the past 15 years has benefited those with pre-existing capital, and there really should be no argument that things are damn hard if you’re trying to work your way out of poverty. Minimum wage workers experience as much stress and far more physical wear and tear than I do as an educated middle class person. They deserve to share in the economic wealth of our society; we owe it to them, and it’s good policy that creates a far better pathway to smaller government than what’s available amid crushing poverty.

So, I’ll be following the session with an open mind, but you should understand that is my point-of-view heading in.

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