Melissa Hortman chats with the Associated Press.
House Democrats will aggressively advance an agenda in the upcoming legislative session that clearly reflects their vision in hopes that Minnesota voters will agree and give Democrats sole control of state government in November, Speaker Melissa Hortman said Monday.
Hortman said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the session, which opens Feb. 11, that "it's not a bad thing" that both parties get the chance to go to the voters and say, "please choose our team."
"There will be areas where we work together and we try to find common ground to get things done for the state of Minnesota, but there will also be some equally important work where we communicate with Minnesotans what direction we think the state should go," Hortman said.
Hortman said House Democrats believe they've already staked out the middle ground on contentious issues such as gun violence prevention and making insulin more affordable. The two gun proposals they'll continue to push this session — universal background checks on gun transfers and "red flag" legislation to let courts temporarily take guns away from people judged to be an immediate risk to themselves or others — are already working in Republican-led jurisdictions, she said.
"There are certainly proposals coming from the left that we could be talking about and pushing for, but you don't see us doing that," the Brooklyn Park lawmaker said. "You see us standing in the moderate middle ground, waiting for reasonable Republicans to step forward and join us."
A compromise on insulin has remained elusive since last session. So Walz, Hortman and other Democrats last week proposed a bill they said combined the best of both the House and Senate approaches. It would require insulin manufacturers to cover most costs for emergency supplies, which has been the main sticking point. Hortman said progress is now up to Senate Republicans.
"As soon as Republicans can get to the point where they acknowledge that the pharmaceutical industry has a role to play here, we'll have a deal," she said. "Minnesotans know where the middle is."
The top item on the Legislature's agenda will be a statewide public works borrowing package known as a "bonding bill." Democratic Gov. Tim Walz last month proposed just over $2 billion in projects, while Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of Nisswa, has said he would be more comfortable with less than $1 billion.
Hortman affirmed that the House Democratic proposal will be bigger. Rep. Mary Murphy, of Hermantown, who chairs the capital investment committee and will be the "chief sculptor" of the bill, is asking for about $3.5 billion in borrowing and $600 million to $700 million in cash. The final House proposal will be "a little bit shy of that," Hortman said.
The speaker said House Democrats "want the largest bill we can get" while preserving the state's Triple A bond rating, The cost of borrowing is very low, construction costs will be cheaper now than later and it's an opportunity to create more jobs, she said.
Hortman said she wasn't sure how far the House will go toward legalizing recreational marijuana. She expressed gratitude for the detailed look that House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, has been taking at the issue. But she said it remains to be seen if there will be enough support among Democrats to pass the bill he's drafting. And she noted that Senate Republicans remain adamantly opposed.
While the speaker said there's value in having parties in power that clearly articulate their positions,. she dismissed the Senate GOP agenda announced last month as "tax cuts for the rich," vouchers to move resources from public to private schools, an effort to divert attention away from gun violence prevention proposals to urban crime, and an effort to revive a proposal that voters rejected in 2012 to require voters to show ID at the polls.
"Those don't seem like fruitful areas for conversation," she said. "They really seem outdated."
Senate Republicans affirmed Monday that they remain ready to work with House Democrats, as they did to pass a budget in the 2019 session with only a one-day overtime period.
"Republicans will continue to work with Democrats in the House and Gov. Walz to get things done, even as we fight hard for our principles," they said in a statement. "Principles like fiscal responsibility, a limited but effective government that takes care of the vulnerable, a market-based economy and strong belief in personal responsibility and liberty. "