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Minnesota Legislature

Mixed emotions mark start to 2020 legislative session

Members of the House stand Feb. 11 for a moment of silence in honor of the late Rep. Diane Loeffler, who passed away in November. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The 2020 legislative session opened Tuesday with both celebration and sadness.

Two new members were welcomed and members recognized the loss of a former colleague as they prepared to get back to work.

The DFL retains its 75-59 seat advantage in the House after the addition of Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Mpls) and Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River). Both were elected Feb. 4 following the death of Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Mpls) and the resignation of Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River).

Their swearing-in was marked with cheers, applause, and the presence of family and friends.

“I’m overwhelmed and full of pride,” Novotny said beforehand.

He identifies his priorities for the session as: “Lowering taxes, getting Social Security income tax cut, and making sure that we get transportation issues taken care of.”

New Minnesota House members sworn in on opening day of 2020 session 2/11/20

In an interview with House Public Information Services last week, Jordan also identified transportation as an issue she hopes to address in the 2020 session, along with meeting bonding needs across the state and investing in affordable housing.

“Being a servant and giving back to your community is something that’s really important to me,” Jordan said. “It’s something that was really important to Rep. Loeffler. She showed up and worked really hard and that’s what I aim to do as well.”


Remembering Rep. Loeffler

Representatives from both sides of the aisle honored Loeffler with a moment of silence and spoke of her legacy as a legislator, colleague, and friend.

They remembered her handwritten notes, the fresh flowers she brought to brighten the House Floor, and shared stories of her compassion, kindness, dedication, and expertise – especially regarding health and human services and property taxes.

“She set the bar high when it came to public service. She never forgot the community she served,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins).

Several legislators also commented on Loeffler’s collegiality and encouraged everyone present to honor her legacy by acting with kindness, dignity, and mutual respect.


Honoring Minnesota National Guardsmen

The Legislature also observed a moment of silence and passed resolutions honoring three members of the Minnesota National Guard who died in a helicopter crash near St. Cloud in December: Warrant Officer Candidate Kort M. Plantenberg, Chief Warrant Officer 2 James A. Rogers Jr., and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles P. Nord.

“While no words can be enough to repay them, it is appropriate for us to take a few moments to thank them for their leadership, bravery, and dedication to the state of Minnesota and the United States of America,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls).

The resolutions were presented by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe), Rep. Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring), and Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls).


The work continues

“It was a definitely a somber way to start the session, but as the majority leader said, these were four individuals who dedicated their lives to doing really important work,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said. “So it was appropriate for us to start the session honoring their service.”

The Legislature is expected to pick up where it left off last session, with committees both reconsidering bills that remained on the Floor when the House adjourned last May, and continuing discussions on broad, often divisive, issues like bonding, affordable housing, transportation, and the affordability and availability of insulin.

House remembrance and recognition of the life of former Representative Diane Loeffler 2/11/20

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) unsuccessfully proposed to adjourn sine die – without setting a date to resume – saying that since government operations are funded until June 2021, it would cause more harm than good to “stick around.”

“If we don’t have anything we have to accomplish, we should go home and relieve [Minnesotans] of what could be freedom-robbing and money-robbing activities,” he said.

Both House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) urged ‘no’ votes.

“I kind of think each of us, our mission in life is to do as much good, for as many people, for as long as we can. And when the Legislature is in session we really have an opportunity to serve the people of Minnesota,” Hortman said in response.

“I think members are eager and excited to be back and ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work,” Daudt said. “There’s a lot of important work to do this session. A bonding infrastructure bill, and figuring out what to do with the surplus. What we should do with that, I think, will be a big topic of discussion.”

The first deadline for getting bills through the committee process is March 13. The Legislature must complete its work by May 18.

House Public Information Services writers Rachel Kats and Rob Hubbard contributed to this story.

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