2021 Minnesota Legislative Session Kicks Off This Week
On January 6, 2021 by Kari Thurlow
Minnesota’s 2021 legislative session began Tuesday at noon, but thanks to the record seven special sessions held from June through December, it feels like the 2020 session never really ended.
Minnesota continues to have the only divided legislature in the country, with Republicans controlling the Senate and the DFL controlling the House. It is also noteworthy that the Minnesota Senate also has a 3rd caucus – and newly-formed Independent Caucus with just two former-DFL members, Senators Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni. They are working closely with Republicans and have been given committee chairs, and this unique dynamic will be added political consideration throughout session.
Due to slim margins for the majority parties, a bill or a budget will require satisfying both parties — or at least not upsetting the political sensibilities of either. This will reduce the number of issues and the breadth of budget decisions that will be considered. Legislative leaders continue to manage expectations about how much can be accomplished this year.
Another major factor that could impact the session’s productivity is the fact that legislative work will continue virtually, for the most part, for the foreseeable future. Both the House and Senate are working on some improvements to the virtual process, but we are still awaiting details on how the legislative proceedings will function in 2021. The House is planning for the entire session to be virtual while the Senate is aiming for a “hybrid” model, with hopes of a full return to in-person activity before session’s end in mid-May. Leadership in both bodies has assured us there will be public access to the process.
Budgeting is one of the constitutionally and statutorily required task for the Legislature in 2021; redrawing our state’s electoral lines based on 2020 census data is the other. While last month’s budget forecast provided an improved budget outlook, lawmakers still face a $1.27 billion deficit for biennium that begins on July 1st. It is noteworthy that this forecast does not account for inflation. While the December forecast will be updated in February.
While legislative leaders have not yet announced committee deadlines, we know the constitutionally required adjournment date is May 17th. Completing budget work on-time has proven to be a challenge even in years without a pandemic, but legislative leadership is holding out hope that it can be done this year.
We will again be coordinating our advocacy efforts through the Long-Term Care Imperative. Our focus with lawmakers will be to
- Ensure Minnesota’s senior care providers and their residents remain a top priority for COVID-19 response resources, whether it be access to vaccinations, testing, PPE, etc;
- Promote additional resources to address the critical workforce shortages that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including seeking pay bonuses for employees that worked throughout the pandemic and removing barriers to recruitment of new staff;
- Protect current reimbursement system for care centers and advocate for additional investments for Elderly Waiver; and,
- Advocate for continuation of policies that have proven effective during pandemic, including virtual adult day services.
We will be reaching out to members with additional information about how you can support our advocacy efforts in the coming weeks.
The legislative schedule is light for this week, typical for the start of a new biennium. The Senate has a few committee overview hearings on the calendar, including a meeting in the Senate’s aging committee regarding MDH’s response to COVID-19 featuring Commissioner Jan Malcolm, while House committees won’t get going until next week.