ST PAUL, Minn. — Even with the legislature out of session, the State Capitol complex buzzed with activity on Tuesday, as various groups continued their pleas for a special session to address unfinished business in Minnesota.
Gov. Walz, who has the ultimate authority to call lawmakers back to St. Paul, said again Tuesday he’s optimistic that an agreement can be reached to start a special session, following recent conversations with DFL and Republican leaders in both legislative chambers. About two weeks ago, lawmakers left the Capitol with deals still pending on some of the state’s most pressing topics.
Two of those issues took the forefront at the capitol on Tuesday.
MINNESOTA’S GUN LAWS
During an 11 a.m. news conference in the basement of the Capitol, multiple DFL senators repeated their calls for new gun laws in the state of Minnesota in response to mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas. While they do not hold a majority in the Senate, they demanded action from their GOP colleagues – with DFL Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen even vowing her party will bring up the issue during the 2022 election cycle to attack Republicans.
“If they won’t, and they refuse to lead – on this and any of the other issues the residents of our state say they want – then we will do everything in our power,” López Franzen said, “to make sure there are new faces and new voices in the Minnesota Senate January 2023 who will.”
Alongside López Franzen, Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) pointed to three specific ideas that they’d like to see considered by the Senate GOP, a few of which they’ve proposed already in recent years. These include expanding background checks on gun shows and private transactions, “red flag” laws allowing judges to take firearms away from people who may be dangerous to themselves or others, and raising the age limit from 18 to 21 for buying a semi-automatic military-style assault weapons.
“We know Minnesota is a hunting and fishing state, so the bill will still allow kids to enjoy hunting. We’re not going to change that,” Sen. Dziedzic said, talking specifically about the age limit proposal. “We will just end their ability to purchase these military-style weapons.”
The Senate DFL leaders want these ideas considered in the public safety bill, one of the items that lawmakers failed to pass during the regular session last month.
However, in response to Tuesday’s press conference, Republican leadership in the Senate blasted the latest DFL proposals.
Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), the chair of the public safety committee, accused Democrats of ignoring GOP proposals on public safety.
“In the last few weeks [we] passed significant funding to recruit and retain law enforcement, demanded accountability from judges and attorneys, and proposed cracking down on repeat violent criminals. House Democrats in Conference Committee were opposed to these proposals,” Limmer said in a statement. “I find it hard to take their proposals today seriously when they won’t agree to these commonsense ideas that will actually protect our citizens from the threat posed by violent criminals today.”
Rob Doar, the senior vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said both parties should focus on finding common ground right now, particularly around school infrastructure and mental health. He also shared his group’s concerns about the Senate DFL’s latest proposals, including the language around due process in the red flag law and raising the age limit for semi-automatic military-style assault weapons from 18 to 21.
“We believe that once we determine you’re an adult, you should have full exercise of your constitutional rights,” Doar said. “You should be able to exercise Second Amendment rights.”
Sen. Ron Latz said during Tuesday’s news conference that the DFL is acknowledging broad concerns from gun owners’ groups and has crafted its latest bills with those issues in mind. However, Latz declined to give specific examples about ways the DFL has modified the gun bills.
“They are ready to go in terms of bipartisanship, and I would say they are certainly ready to go in terms of what the public is willing to do and wants done, Latz said. “Why won’t the GOP step forward and how do we make that happen? I don’t know.”
Prior to the Senate DFL press conference, a coalition of public works, construction, trade and energy groups made their own pleas for a special session – for an entirely unrelated topic. They demanded that legislators return to the Capitol to pass a bonding bill, which funds projects like roads and bridges and wastewater treatment. The legislature typically passes the bonding bill every other year (in even-numbered, non-budget years), but the deal did not get done during last month’s session.
Additionally, these groups called upon lawmakers to pass legislation unlocking federal matching funds from last year’s infrastructure bill, warning leaders that the state could lose out on billions of dollars if they fail to act.
Dan Olson of Laborers Local 1091 offered particularly harsh words for elected officials in Minnesota.
“They rely on you – the people that we elect. I don’t care what side of the aisle it is. You’re going to come to our organization and look for an endorsement. You’re going to come to our organization to look for money for your campaigns. And you’re going to come to our organization to get our members to vote and support you. I want you back at work,” Olson said. “Get back to work. Finish what you’re doing. And let’s move on.”
The bonding bill originates in the House, and previously, Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt has said he’d be open to a special session discussing bonding and infrastructure proposals.
DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, meanwhile, told KARE 11 in a Zoom interview on Tuesday that lawmakers have reached agreements on more than $1 billion for the bonding bill, with a "short distance to go to finish the work.”
“I’m optimistic that we will have an agreement and we will be able to do a bonding bill relatively soon,” Hortman said. “Senator Miller, Gov. Walz, and I have continued to have good conversations at the leadership level. My understanding is that those folks who are working on bonding for each of the caucuses – the two DFL caucuses and the two DFL caucuses – are continuing to have good conversations and that we’re really very, very close.”
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