With the legislature now adjourned until February 2024, many commentators have labeled the 2023 legislative session as “historic.” In hindsight, few groups have a better claim to that word when describing the impact of the policies passed this year than Minnesota’s children and families.
The legislature was busy this session – the busiest many have seen in decades, if ever. DFLers came into the session with an enormous budget surplus, (narrow) control of the Senate, State House, and governor’s office, and a long checklist of progressive priorities.
At the top of the list were reproductive health items like the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, and repealing obstructions to abortion services. The legislature did not only pass those, but also banned the barbaric practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and authorized legal protection for those providing and seeking gender-affirming care in Minnesota.
Next on the checklist were significant investments into early childhood. Governor Tim Walz, when unveiling his budget proposals, said he wanted to make the Minnesota the “best state for kids and families.” The 2024-25 state budget reflected that intention and includes $1.2 billion of new funding for early childhood initiatives, $800 million for a comprehensive paid family and medica leave program, $200 million for free school meals, the creation of a new Department of Children, Youth, and Families, a child tax credit increase, and much more.
The legislature was also finally able to push through firearm safety measures. Specifically, these measures include expanded background checks for firearm sales and transfers and extreme risk protection orders, or “red flag” laws, so a family member or law enforcement can petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who has been determined to be a harm to themselves or others.
There is still much work to be done. Pediatricians advocated for stricter firearm storage laws and for the removal of the current statute exempting children from public school immunization requirements based on “conscientiously held beliefs.” These items did not make it across the finish line this year, but that does not mean we should ignore all the great bills that became law this year.
I do not have the space in this article to list everything that will help kids be safe, healthy, and happy. I want to extend my gratitude to those who engaged in advocacy efforts this session. Pediatricians were at the forefront of the public discussion and will need to continue that going forward. In the meantime, though, we should hold our collective heads high and celebrate this year’s legislative session and the impact it will have on Minnesota’s children and families. I can think of no better word to describe it than “historic.”