Nearing the end of 2021, a time when words like “Delta variant,” “vaccine hesitancy,” and “I think you’re muted” were all regularly used, plenty of Minnesotans are hoping for a more normal 2022. From a political perspective however, I am here to tell you that won’t likely happen for a variety of reasons.
Split Government and Unfinished Business
Minnesota still has the sole split-legislature in the nation. With Republicans retaining a majority in the Senate and DFLers in control of the House, Minnesota is entering its fourth straight session of split government. The split hasn’t forced either side into many compromises in recent years, and lawmakers will enter 2022 with additional unfinished business from the interim.
Following the 2021 session, a bipartisan working group was tasked with developing a recommendation for the $250 million set aside for the state’s frontline workers who suffered during the pandemic. The recommendation was due by Sept. 6 with the idea that the governor would call a special session and both bodies would pass the working group’s recommendation. The deadline came and went, the working group had no report to offer, and no special session was called.
On top of that, GOP members in the Senate threatened to reject the confirmation of Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm amidst discussions of school and employer vaccine mandates. Governor Tim Walz stated he would not call a special session without assurances that Malcolm won’t be removed – something Republican senators were not willing to agree to. The $250 million will not and cannot be distributed without the legislature being in session to approve it. That will need to wait until the legislature convenes on Jan. 31, when Republicans could also vote to remove the health commissioner from her present post.
Virtual Session in the House
Minnesota Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), announced in a letter to House members and staff that the House will continue remote and hybrid operations through the end of the 2022 legislative session. Hortman also noted the policy could change “as health and safety conditions evolve.” According to the letter, there will be at least a 30-day notice prior to any change. There has not been formal communication regarding the Senate’s plans for operations, but it is believed the Senate will likely meet in-person at the Capitol.
Elections and New Senate Leadership
With no constitutional requirement to pass a state budget and the 2022 elections on the horizon, the second half of the biennium is typically less active than the first. All 201 legislators will be on the ballot in 2022, along with the governor. Two legislators, Senator Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) and Senator Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) announced their gubernatorial candidacies this fall, joining former State Senator Scott Jensen as frontrunners to challenge Governor Walz. When he announced his candidacy, Gazelka stepped down as majority leader and Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) was selected to take his place. Simultaneously, Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) announced she would not seek re-election in 2022, leading to the DFL caucus selecting Senator Melisa López Franzen (DFL-Edina) as the new minority leader.
The new leadership will have plenty on their plates as the entire legislature discusses their priorities going into the 2022 session. Similarly, please stay tuned to newsletters and updates as the MNAAP 2022 legislative priorities are finalized and announced.