Minnesota Democrats off to the races with blockbuster bills

The opening gavel for the 2023 legislative session might as well have been the starting gun of a sprint to the finish.

In less than two weeks, the DFL-controlled Legislature has made significant progress on potentially transformative legislation on issues such as legal cannabis, abortion protections and paid family and medical leave.

“I’m also comparing it to the last decade or so when there has been so much inactivity, inaction and gridlock so it does seem to be going faster,” said former DFL state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge. “But you know what’s so refreshing, Tom? Usually the question you ask me is why is everything done at the last minute.”

Junge and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Republican, sat down with us for a taping of “At Issue” to talk about the rapid pace of major legislation.

“This is an open bar with lobster, steak, best hotel downtown. Everybody gets to stay. I mean this is a wide-open party,” Zellers said. “Unfettered abortion. Weed for everybody. Voting rights for 16-year-olds. I don’t remember that on the campaign trail a couple months ago.”

Zellers was referring to a bill that would allow Minnesotans as young as 16 to preregister to vote; applicants would still have to wait until they turn 18 to cast a ballot.

Gov. Tim Walz signed the first bill of the session this week, a bipartisan tax conformity bill that aligns Minnesota with federal tax law.

“For the naysayers or the pessimists, yes, work can get done,” the governor said during a news conference on Wednesday. “Yes, folks came together collecitively.”

But that bill might be one of the few significant proposals with bipartisan support — a bill codifying the right to an abortion in state law will not.

“Democrats know that what got them elected and put them in this position of being in control of state government is basically the abortion issue, and they are responding to what they heard at the doors when they were out there,” Reighgott Junge said.

“But allowing abortion up until the very last day is completely above and beyond anything a Democrat campaigned on,” Zellers responded.

These issues are just for starters, with a budget debate also looming. You can hear much more of this debate with our political analysts on “At Issue” Sunday morning at 10 a.m.