Minnesota Legislature: Week in Review: March 21-25

The session’s first committee deadline has come and gone — and the second is just a week away, on April 1. That’s the date by when committees must act favorably on bills, or companions of bills, that met the first deadline in the other body.

In other words, we’re in the thick of 2022 regular legislative session.

The invasion of Ukraine, climate change, felony murder laws, broadband, education policy, used car prices: lawmakers covered a lot of ground in recent days. Here’s a look back at what you may have missed. Have a good weekend.

Check out the latest gallery from House Photography and stay up-to-date on House news and updates throughout the week at Session Daily.



Grants proposed to fund secondary education of meat cutting, butchery



Farm to School grants could double, add child care providers




Is climate change part of the bonding discussion? Ratings agencies say it is




Judiciary panel lays over felony murder law reform bill




Provision allowing large brewers to sell growlers moves forward as part of omnibus liquor bill



Used car prices must be prominently posted under proposed legislation




Economic development panel approves bill to extend broadband internet service to hard-to-reach households



Bill aims to help build community wealth by supporting shared ownership




Omnibus education policy bill is unveiled, gets high marks from some



Legislation calls for end to disciplinary dismissals of K-3 students



Legislature could examine new ways to calculate compensatory revenue for MN schools




Bill proposes multi-pronged approach for easing MN’s human services workforce shortage



Millions in funding proposed to help workforce boards meet employment challenges



No action taken on proposed temporary extension of waiver for child care centers




Help could be on way for victims of polar vortex price spikes



Targeting more green innovation, bill would extend incentives to on-site energy storage




House environment panel OKs bill to appropriate $47 million from state’s Clean Water Fund



Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations OK’d despite no LCCMR recommendation




Health panel hears bill to distribute free masks, COVID-19 antigen tests to Minnesota residents



House votes to reauthorize reinsurance program in individual market



House votes to fund $25 million on ALS research, family caregiver support



Health panel lays over bill on community-based dental care pilot project



House member hopes bill will spur discussion about end-of-life plans



Bill proposes tweaks to state’s substance abuse treatment licensing requirements



House health panel lays over bill to fund programs aiding trauma victims




Free college grant program proposed for Minnesota State schools to aid future workforce




Keeping housing affordable the goal of community stabilization bill



With MN short on housing, bill would push production to increase homeownership




More help for vets? Service officers and organizations could see more funding




Public safety panel approves $151 million bill proposing ‘innovative solutions’ to fight rise in crime



‘We’ve got to stop this behavior,’ says lawmaker sponsoring bill to punish disruptive spectators at youth sports



Lawmakers consider creation of Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Office




House passes plan to scrub state investments of ties with Russia, Belarus



Legislative task force proposed to examine long-term aging costs



Time for a rebrand? House lawmakers consider measure to redesign MN’s flag, seal




Minnesota businesses could get a tax credit for sending workers back to school



Could state’s surplus smooth way for eliminating taxes on Social Security benefits?




Could cameras slow MN’s speeding drivers? Legislation proposes pilot program to find out



With long waits driving customers crazy, lawmaker proposes plan to reduce frustration of getting new licenses, IDs


State Hits Lowest Unemployment Rate In 20 years As More Minnesotans Go Back To Work

Minnesota’s labor market continued its bounceback from the pandemic, with the state adding 5,200 jobs in February.

Minnesota’s unemployment rate in February shrank to 2.7%, a level not seen since 1999 and entirely the result of people who were previously unemployed entering the workforce and finding jobs, according to figures released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

That’s a signal that people who were no longer looking for jobs after being pushed out of the workforce by the pandemic’s effects are increasingly looking to come back to work.

“A lot of times during the pandemic we talked about the unemployment rate going down not necessarily being a good sign since people were leaving the labor force,” said Steve Grove, DEED’s commissioner. “The good news is these recent dips in the rate are because people are coming into the labor force.”

The increase in jobs last month comes after a gain of more than 10,000 in January, the largest jump the state had seen for months. The state has gained back nearly three-quarters of the 417,000 jobs it lost in the first few months of the pandemic, Grove said. It’s still shy about 120,000 jobs from pre-pandemic levels.

“The labor force participation rate is ticking up, finally,” said Oriane Casale, DEED’s assistant director of its Labor Market Information Office. “It seems to be kind of across the board. We’re seeing positive trends for all of the three racial groups that we track, as well as for both women and men.”

The state’s labor market remains tighter than the national level – the country’s unemployment rate was 3.8% in February.

Though the state is in its fifth-straight month of job gains, inflation is outpacing wage growth. The state’s average hourly wage of $34.65 in early 2022 increased 7% from the previous year; the inflation rate is closer to 8%, according to DEED data. The only other year in the past decade that has seen inflation higher than wage growth was 2018.

Grove said his office is hearing from employers that some are boosting wages to attract workers in the tight market, but others are offering other perks, like flexible schedules, childcare subsidies and pet insurance.

“People are getting creative and those who are doing new things are seeing new results,” Grove said.

The state’s manufacturing, information, education, government, and trade and transportation sectors all saw monthly gains in employment. Construction, financial activities and professional services had decreases compared to January.

Despite the overall decrease in the unemployment rate, racial disparities continue. The unemployment rate for Black Minnesotans rose 0.3% in February and is twice that of white Minnesotans. Hispanic Minnesotan’s saw an improved rate last month, but it’s still higher compared to that of the white population.

(Minneapolis/ St. Paul Business Journal)


Walz Favors $500 Minnesota Stimulus Checks, Not Gas Tax Holiday to Ease Pain at the Pump

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is pushing lawmakers to pass bigger rebate checks instead of a gas tax holiday as inflation surges to levels not seen in 40 years.

Walz’s proposal calls for direct payments of $500 to adults who make less than $164,400 a year and $1,000 per couple making less than $273,470. He has tripled the size of the checks since he first proposed them in January, and his administration now estimates the cost at $2 billion. The checks are part of Walz’s updated spending plan released Thursday.

Politicians across the country are grappling with inflation — especially highly visible gas prices — with this fall’s midterm elections looming. Walz said a direct payment would be more effective than waiving the state’s 28-cent per gallon gas tax over the summer, as some House Democrats have proposed.

“It’s quite a few fill-ups that you could get out of $1,000,” Walz told reporters at a gas station in New Hope. “I think this money in the hands of folks before summer would make a good difference. And it’s fiscally responsible.”

Still, the first-term DFL governor said he would sign a gas tax holiday if the divided state Legislature passed one.

Under a gas tax holiday, relief would be much slower than with a one-time payment. The owner of a vehicle with a 15-gallon tank would need to fill up 119 times before saving $500. But a rebate check wouldn’t change the two-foot-tall, record-breaking prices displayed on gas station signs.

Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate call a gas tax holiday a gimmick. They have also been lukewarm to Walz’s one-time rebate checks, preferring permanent income tax cuts instead.

The Senate GOP has called for cutting the bottom income tax rate — which all filers pay on at least a portion of their income — nearly in half.

“If we can’t come to an agreement on that, I would be incredibly disappointed,” Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, told reporters when asked if he would view the session as a failure without tax cuts.

With the 2022 session nearing its midpoint, lawmakers have stalled on every proposal to spend $10.4 billion of combined budget surplus and federal COVID-19 relief money. Income tax cuts, rebate checks, bonuses for workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, and business tax breaks are all no closer to passage.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have dealt with split-party control in the Legislature since 2019. In recent days, Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of not wanting deals, in hopes of improving their hand in this fall’s midterms.

“The idea that you’ll run out the clock and maybe roll the dice that you’ll get the money to spend it all yourself, to me, it’s just not moral to do that,” Walz said, when a reporter asked about the possibility that the Legislature makes no deals this session.

Miller, the top Senate Republican, dismissed the criticism.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous we don’t want any deals,” he said. “Which chamber is passing bills with bipartisan support? It’s this chamber. The Minnesota Senate is passing bills with strong bipartisan support. Anyone who’s saying we don’t want to get deals done, it’s absolutely false, it’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s actually laughable.”


(Fox 9)

Minnesota State Senator Tom Bakk Announces Retirement

After serving in the state legislature for nearly three decades, Sen. Bakk said he won’t seek reelection and will retire at the end of the year.

COOK, Minn. — With another election season on the horizon, Minnesota State Senator Tom Bakk says he’s ready to move on from politics.

Bakk, who represents Minnesota’s Senate District 3 as an Independent, announced March 17 that he will not seek reelection for another term and will retire at the end of the year.

“Representing the people of the Arrowhead region has been one of the greatest rewards of my life, made possible by the support and patience of my family,” Bakk said in a written statement. “My heartfelt thanks to my constituents for entrusting me to be their voice at the Capitol for so many years. I have always tried to do my best for the people I’ve served even if it was not always easy or popular with my own political party. The friendships and the memories I have made will carry with me forever.”

Bakk was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1994, where he served four terms as a member of the DFL party. In 2002 Bakk was elected to the state Senate where he served as Majority Leader from 2013-2016 and Minority Leader from 2011-2012 and 2017-2020.

Last year, Bakk left the DFL Caucus to become an Independent and is currently is the Chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

“There is still a lot more to be done but it is time for me to pass the torch. I’m certain there are new inspiring leaders waiting in the wings. For 28 years it has been my time to serve but now it is finally my time to retire,” his statement read.

Bakk, who has four children and eight grandchildren, lives on Lake Vermillion with his wife Laura. The senator said he expects to enjoy more sports, like hockey, baseball and basketball, with his family in the future.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Four terms in the Minnesota House followed by six terms in the Minnesota Senate. It adds up to 28 years for Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook. And he’s decided that’s enough.

Sen. Bakk announced Thursday he won’t run for re-election in his fall, joining a large exodus of lawmakers who won’t be back for the 2023 session. He said he wants to spend more time with his family, including his grandchildren who live in northern Minnesota.

“I’ve got eight grandchildren now. They’re a long way away from here,” Bakk told KARE.

“I remember going fishing with my grandpa and I want them to remember that with me. That’s very hard, especially when you get into leadership roles like I have here. For some of us that are in leadership positions this isn’t a part-time job anymore.”

Bakk, a carpenter and union leader in the state’s Arrowhead region, was first elected to the House in 1994 and won his first Senate election in 2002. He rose through the ranks to become leader of the DFL Caucus, serving as Senate Majority Leader and later Senate Minority Leader.

During those years he spearheaded efforts to raise the minimum wage and index it to the cost of living and make major investments in all-day kindergarten.

“I feel like an awful lot of good things have happened and I’ve been part of that,” Bakk remarked.

“I’m at a point where I feel I’ve paid my dues, and it’s time for someone else to pick up the flag and someone will. There’s a lot of really good people in northern Minnesota.”

Lawmaker exodus

As of Thursday, 17 of the Senate’s 67 members had announced they’re retiring. Of that group 13 have decided, like Bakk, to leave politics. Four others are running for other offices. Republicans Paul Gazelka Michelle Benson are both in the governor’s race. Democrat Jerry Newton is running for a House seat, while Karla Bigham is running for Washington County Commission.

See a full list of retiring Minnesota lawmakers here from the Legislative Research Library.

In the House so far 33 state representatives have said they’re retiring. Of those, 17 are leaving politics for now, while 12 are running for seats in the Senate. Another four House members are running for other offices.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler is running for Hennepin County Attorney. His fellow Democrat Rena Moran is running for Ramsey County Commission. Two Republicans, Nels Pierson and Jeremy Munson, are both running for the late Congressman Jim Hagedorn’s seat in the U.S. House.

“Senator Bakk has a very, very strong legacy of representing the Iron Range,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller told reporters Thursday.

“He’s become a close friend to many here in the legislature, including me. We’re going to miss Senator Bakk. He still has work to do, though. He’s working on a bonding bill and I’m sure he has other things.”

Bakk and Sen. Dave Tomassoni, a fellow Iron Ranger, broke away from the DFL Caucus in December of 2020 and became independents who could swing either way on key Senate votes. Ten months earlier, Senate Democrats had elected Sen. Susan Kent as their new caucus leader over Bakk.

Earlier this year, Kent stepped down from the minority leader post to spend more time caring for her ailing mother. Sen. Melisa Lopez-Franzen of Edina was elected to replace Kent as Senate DFL leader, but she’s also retiring after redistricting put her in the same district with fellow Democrat Ron Latz.

Sen. Franzen praised Bakk Thursday.

In fact, redistricting played a huge role in many lawmakers’ decisions about whether to run again or retire. Others had just reached the age where, like Bakk, they didn’t want to miss time with their families.

“In his 28 years serving Northeastern Minnesota Senator Bakk has been a strong voice not only for his constituents, but for people across the state on the issues he cared deeply about, and that Minnesotans cared deeply about,” she said.

RELATED: New 2022 congressional, legislative maps released for Minnesota

Franzen cited his work on tax reform, education, stabilizing school funding and the state budget and advocating for family-supporting jobs, plus his efforts to secure funding so for the massive State Capitol restoration project and the new Senate Office Building.

Tomassoni was diagnosed last year with ALS and decided he won’t run for re-election because the degenerative disease is taking such a heavy physical toll.

“The truth is the Senate’s not going to be the same next year,” Bakk said Thursday.

“My friend David Tomassoni won’t be here. My friends Paul Gazelka, Scott Newman, Julie Rosen, Dave Clausen, and Jerry Newton won’t be here. A lot of people that have been close friends won’t be here next year. That’s a little hard.


(KARE 11)