The Minnesota legislative session began on Tuesday after Governor Mark Dayton and constitutional officers were sworn in Monday. Twenty-six new members were sworn into the House. Both the House and Senate schedules were light this week, with much time spent on legislator orientation and bicameral networking events. Both the Senate DFL majority and House GOP majority held press conferences Thursday, reviewing their first bills of the 2015 session that are indicative of top priorities.
Common themes in the House GOP and Senate DFL majority bill introductions include health care, education and transportation.
The Senate majority's first bills covered most of the body's priority areas. Senate Majority Leader Bakk did say that the first bill introductions cover some, but not all, of their key legislative priorities. Senate DFL leaders highlighted a bill that focuses on improving pre-K public education resources (SF6). On the same day the Senate introduced its free community college bill, President Obama announced a similar proposal. The workforce development initiatives in Minnesota would include tuition assistance for those attending vocational and technical colleges (SF2). On health care, the Senate DFL proposal would support all health care professionals who chose to work in rural and underserved parts of the state (SF3). The majority also introduced a child protection improvement bill (SF4) and an appropriation of disaster relief funds for those affected by last summer's storms (SF1).
Though both chambers proposed loan forgiveness programs relating to health care, the Republican majority had two additional proposals relating to health care — one pertaining to MNSure and the other to long-term care. The health care-focused proposal would overhaul MNSure by allowing Minnesota to apply for a federal waiver and reconfigure the state's system (HF5), while the latter bill would work to support health care professionals working in long-term care facilities by offering scholarships for further education (HF3). On education, the House's proposal focuses on teacher quality, mentorship and development (HF2). It would seek additional funding for dual education/job training apprenticeship programs. The GOP's jobs bill would stimulate job growth by reducing taxes on businesses and expediting environmental permitting across the state (HF1).
On the issue of transportation, the House proposal seeks to refocus existing funds for roads and bridges to add $750 million in transportation spending over the next four years and $200 million from the budget surplus to be spent on local roads and bridges (HF4). The Senate DFL did not include a transportation-related bill in its first six, but reported a bill would be coming next week.
Upcoming Legislative Notes
Next week will be the first full week of committee hearings and floor sessions. On Tuesday, both the House and Senate tax committees will hear bills conforming the state tax code to recent federal changes.
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