ST. PAUL, Minn. – Lawmakers were back in St. Paul on Tuesday for the start of the 2017 Minnesota Legislative Session.
It’s newly-elected Democratic State Representative Duane Sauke’s first time at the state capitol.
“What I really want to do is to participate in a way that dialogue happens, that we continually are moving things forward,” Representative Sauke said.
For other local lawmakers, it’s another year on the job.
“This is my 5th term, but every day I think it’s very humbling. You really realize what an honor it is to represent the people back home and it’s something that we take very seriously,” said Democratic State Senator Dan Sparks.
There is a lot to get done this legislative session. Much of it is unfinished business from last year.
“We’ve got a leftover tax bill, we’ve got a leftover bonding bill, we’ve got transportation issues that need to be taken care of,” said Republican State Senator David Senjem.
Lawmakers agree that health care needs to be the top priority. Minnesotans on the state’s health insurance exchange are facing massive rate hikes.
“We need to do 2 things in my mind. We need to have short term, immediate relief for these families and individuals that are getting hit with these huge premium increases. But then we have to work long term to have a solution that works for everybody,” said Republican State Representative Peggy Bennett.
This year there is a shift in power in the legislature, with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate. The last time there was this dynamic, it led to Democratic Governor Mark Dayton disagreeing with legislative leaders over a budget, leading to a government shutdown. Now some are wondering if history will repeat itself.
“We should all learn lessons from 2011. I don’t think anybody is gunning for a special session. In fact, we should be doing everything possible to avoid that,” said Republican State Senator Carla Nelson.
“It’s going to be very challenging because the governor is in his last two years. So he has his own agenda. He’d like to either preserve or be able to make sure that he gets some things done.
I’m optimistic for a good portion of it, I think we can get some things done,” said Democratic State Representative Jeanne Poppe.
A local student also got the unique opportunity to experience opening day of the legislative session.
4th grader Nicholas Belshan was Representative Peggy Bennett’s special guest at the capitol on Tuesday. Nicholas was in Bennett’s class a few years ago when she was a first grade teacher in Albert Lea.
“It’s very special It’s my first time here. I’ve never been here before and it’s really beautiful in here. it’s really cool when it’s restored stuff,” Nicholas said.