Weed, abortion, paid leave, rebates and taxes: A look at what MN lawmakers got done this year
DFLers wasted no time after winning full control of state government in November.
ST. PAUL — A pillow sitting on a couch in Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman’s office looking over the Capitol grounds is embroidered with the letters “LFG.”
That’s the acronym many Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers used on social media after learning they won full control of state government in the November 2022 election. After eight years of partisan gridlock, no Republican majority in the Senate or House stood in their way. It was time to enact their agenda.
What does LFG stand for? The PG-rated version is “Let’s freaking go.” And did they ever.
In this year’s session, DFLers sought to reinforce protections for abortion rights, enact paid family and medical leave, boost funding for education, pass gun control legislation, legalize marijuana and expand voting rights. All that happened and more, plus a $72 billion two-year budget that boosts spending by 38% — though much of that is one-time money from the surplus, DFL leaders say.
That short list doesn’t come close to capturing what the new majorities moved through the Capitol this year. Most of their priorities got to the desk of fellow Democrat Gov. Tim Walz in what may turn out to be one of the most consequential legislative sessions in a generation.
It was the first time in 10 years the Legislature had completed a budget on deadline without the need for a special session, a testament to the efficiency of an ambitious, well-organized majority hungry to get things done.
DFLers wasted no time with their new power, arguing their vision would create a better state for working families to raise children. The sheer number of new and potentially transformative laws passed is unheard of in contemporary Minnesota politics.
Republicans, now in the minority in both legislative chambers, decried new spending and tax increases amid a historic $17.5 billion budget. Despite their efforts to claw votes away among four DFL senators who pledged to repeal the Social Security income tax, the majority was more or less resolute in its agenda.
Major bills passed
A lot happened this session, and it’ll be years before the impacts of new policies can be measured. But as the dust settles from a whirlwind session at the state Capitol, here’s a glimpse of what lawmakers and the governor got done:
LEGAL MARIJUANA — This year, Minnesota will legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older. It’ll be the 23rd state to do so. In addition to legalization, the new law will expunge marijuana conviction records and create a new regulatory plan for the substance. It will probably take more than a year for businesses to start selling, but personal possession and growing will be legal on Aug. 1.
PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE — A tax-funded, state-administered paid family and medical leave program will require 12 weeks of family leave and 12 weeks of medical leave with a 20-week annual cap. It takes effect in 2026.
Funding is supposed to come from a new 0.7% payroll tax split between employers and employees. It’s initially expected to create an additional $1.5 billion a year in taxes statewide. Past estimates found workers would pay about $3 extra in taxes each week.
UNIVERSAL SCHOOL MEALS — Starting this fall, students at Minnesota schools will get free meals regardless of their ability to pay. Over the next four years, more than $800 million will go toward school lunches and breakfasts.
REBATE CHECKS — More than 2.5 million Minnesota tax filers will get a one-time tax rebate. Single filers earning up to $78,000 a year should get $260 checks. Joint filers earning up to $150,000 should get checks of $520. Households should get $260 for each dependent up to three, for a maximum total of $1,300.
GUN CONTROL — Universal background checks for firearms sales and the option to request court-issued emergency orders to confiscate guns from high-risk individuals are set to go into effect this year.
PFAS BAN — Minnesota is banning “forever chemicals“ known as PFAS from various products. Increasing evidence suggests PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are linked to cancers and other health conditions. They're found in a wide variety of products ranging from cookware to firefighting foam and are known to persist in the environment and accumulate in the tissue of living things.
SOCIAL SECURITY TAX — Social Security income tax would be eliminated for about three-quarters of people who receive the benefit, according to DFLers. The tax would be fully eliminated for single filers earning up to $78,000 and joint filers earning up to $100,000 a year. From that point, it would completely phase out at $118,000 for single filers and $140,000 for joint filers.
VEHICLE REGISTRATION FEES — The transportation bill increases motor vehicle registration tax. The current tax is $10 plus 1.25% of the base value for a passenger vehicle. That’ll go up to 1.54% for vehicles purchased before November 2020, and 1.575% for vehicles purchased after then.
In 2022, the average price of a new vehicle was $48,000, according to auto valuation and research publication Kelley Blue Book. The House version of the legislation would increase the average registration of a new $48,000 vehicle from $610 to $766.
Vehicle registrations in Minnesota drop down each year for 10 years after the purchase until the fee is $35.
DELIVERY FEE — A new 50-cent fee will apply to all deliveries over $100, with exemptions like medication.
GAS TAX CHANGES — Minnesota’s gas tax will go up in coming years after lawmakers decided to peg the per-gallon tax to the rate of inflation. The current vehicle fuel tax is 28.5 cents per gallon, and with the new tax, it's expected to go up by 5 cents per gallon by 2027.
But a “minimum markup” rule requiring retailers to add either 8 cents or 6% to the price of a gallon of gas — whichever is less — has been repealed.
EDUCATION — The education budget boosts funding by $2.2 billion for K-12 schools. It provides funding for mental health professionals in schools and provides unemployment insurance for hourly school workers.
ELECTION LAWS — Automatic voter registration tops the list of new laws enacted this year that DFLers say will strengthen Minnesota’s position as the top state for voter participation. There will also be new penalties for election disinformation and harassment of election workers. Minnesota also restored voting rights to felons on probation.
FLAG CHANGE — Minnesota could have a new flag and seal by this time next year. A State Emblems Redesign Commission is set to explore options for a new state flag and seal and will have to deliver a report by the beginning of 2024.
‘SICK AND SAFE TIME’ — Minnesota will soon require all employers to provide 48 hours of paid time each year for illness, medical appointments, child care or seeking help for domestic abuse.
LGBT PROTECTIONS — Laws enacted this year aimed at protecting LGBT rights include a ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors and protections against out-of-state laws restricting gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth.
ABORTION RIGHTS — The right to an abortion is now codified in Minnesota law. Restrictions on abortion, including a 24-hour wait period and a requirement for minors to notify both parents before getting the procedure, are now removed from state law.
LICENSES FOR ALL — People in the U.S. illegally will be able to obtain a Minnesota driver's license once again, 20 years after they were barred from doing so.
SENTENCING REFORM — The “Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act” changes the parole system to allow people convicted of crimes to get released after completing 50% of their sentence on condition they complete programs like addiction or sex offender treatment. Currently, release is possible at 66% of the sentence.
CROWN ACT — Minnesota law now includes specific protections against discrimination based on ethnic hairstyles. The CROWN Act adds hairstyle protections to the state’s existing human rights statute. Natural hairstyles and textures would be specifically included in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, offering protections for “braids, locs and twists.”
JUNETEENTH — Juneteenth, a day recognizing the end of slavery in the United States, is now an official state holiday in Minnesota.
ENERGY — Power produced by Minnesota utilities will have to be completely generated by carbon-free sources by 2040.
BONDING BILL AND TRANSPORTATION FUNDING — After more than two years without a capital investment bill, lawmakers approved $2.6 billion in borrowing and spending for public infrastructure, including water treatment plants, university buildings, roads and infrastructure.
NORTHERN LIGHTS RAIL — A Duluth-Twin Cities passenger rail line got $194.7 million in the transportation bill. The next step is securing matching federal funds.
FREE COLLEGE TUITION — Public college tuition will be free for Minnesota students from families earning less than $80,000 a year.
NEW CRIMES — Anyone removing a catalytic converter attached to a vehicle will be required to label it with the vehicle identification number, or VIN, as part of a new law to combat theft.
Using artificial intelligence to create sexual images of people without their consent or to spread election disinformation would be a crime in Minnesota under a bill passed by the House and Senate.
Penalties for distributing fentanyl are now aligned with heroin offenses.
What didn’t pass?
‘NURSES AT THE BEDSIDE’ — Despite a push by a major nurses union, an act to require nurse staffing boards at Minnesota hospitals failed after Mayo Clinic threatened to withhold billions in investment in the state. Instead, a bill creating protections against health care workers and nursing student debt relief passed the Legislature. The fight isn't over and will likely emerge at the Legislature in the future.
ERA AMENDMENT — A proposed change to the state Constitution reinforcing equality under the law regardless of gender will have to wait until next year. If passed by both the House and Senate, an amendment to the state constitution would go on the 2024 ballot, and voters would have the final call.
SPORTS BETTING — Despite a second serious push for legal sports betting at the Capitol this year, this bill fell through the cracks as the DFL trifecta pursued its agenda. One of the remaining sticking points is tribal exclusivity. Minnesota’s two horse racing tracks want in on the action, but tribes want exclusive rights to run in-person and online sports betting in the state.
UBER — The governor on Thursday vetoed a bill setting base pay and firing rules for ride-share drivers following a warning from Uber that the company would drastically cut back service in the state if the bill became law.
HEALTH MERGER SESSION — Lawmakers may have to reconvene this summer to address details of a proposed merger between South Dakota-based Sanford Health and Twin Cities-based Fairview Health Services. Fairview holds assets tied to the University of Minnesota Medical School, and many have argued the state should retain them when Sanford takes control of Fairview in the merger.
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