ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With summer winding down, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday that he's looking ahead toward the 2020 legislative session, with plans to push proposals for making insulin affordable, reducing gun violence, clean energy and criminal justice reform.
The Democratic governor said in an interview with The Associated Press that he's currently taking a "hard look" at each state agency to see what they could do better and where legislation might be needed. He said he's also reaching out to stakeholders to start building coalitions to support the policy proposals that he plans to advance in the next session, which convenes Feb. 11, 2020.
Walz said he still thinks there's a chance for a one-day special session soon to pass funding for emergency insulin supplies, which failed to pass in the closing hours of the 2019 session due to disagreements over how to fund it. He said he plans another push for gun safety legislation, meaning universal background checks and a "red flag" law to temporarily take guns from people judged to be a threat to themselves or others, which hit a roadblock in the GOP-controlled Senate.
"I can't do these alone," he said. "It's going to take the House and the Senate. It seems like there's an appetite to tackle insulin, (we're) probably closer there than on gun safety. But we'll still bring it up."
The governor noted that leaders of the Democratic-controlled House are currently holding listening sessions on insulin and that Speaker Melissa Hortman has said they'll have a bill ready late this month. Senate Republican leaders have called a news conference for Thursday to roll out their own insulin plan.
Walz also said he expects to propose a public works borrowing bill, also known as a bonding bill, at least as big as the $1.27 billion package he proposed last session, which failed to get traction in a year when passing a budget was the top priority. Chances will be better in 2020 because the Legislature traditionally devotes even-numbered years to bonding bills.
While President Donald Trump has sent mixed signals on what national gun legislation he might support, Walz said he thinks there's enough "political and public will" to enact it in Minnesota. He said the 2020 elections, when the Senate GOP's thin majority will be at stake, could foster bipartisan cooperation by pressuring suburban Republicans. Guns were an issue when Democrats took control of the Minnesota House in 2018 by ejecting numerous suburban Republicans, when the Senate was not up for re-election.
"For the Republican Senate to maintain its majority it has got to win in the suburbs," he said.
While the governor said he expects the presidential race to overshadow the 2020 elections, he dismissed Trump's claims that he can win in historically blue Minnesota, even though the president came in 2016.
"He can't, but I encourage him to try," he said. "... This is about turnout. We found out what happened when we stayed home in 2016. We also found out what happens when we show up in 2018."
Walz also said he'll be back with his Clean Energy First proposal to require that Minnesota electrical utilities go carbon-free by 2050, which drew opposition last session from rural utilities.
And he said he expects to propose a criminal justice reform package, a favorite cause of first lady Gwen Walz. He said it's likely to include a project patterned after one in New York state that has slashed recidivism by putting inmates through rigorous college degree programs.
The first lady came under criticism while promoting the idea at a forum at Twin Cities Public Television last May. Minnesota Public Radio reported Monday that she was taken aback by a moderator's questions about race, apparently unprepared to talk about the racial aspects of criminal justice. The governor said racial inequities will be part of the conversation going forward.
"These are always hard conversations. They're never far from us. I think we continue to learn and listen to communities and move forward," he said. "I'm just proud that I've got a partner and we've got a first lady that's willing to take on the hardest issues."