What’s ahead in Legislation in 2021: Four Questions

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, all 201 Minnesota Legislators were sworn into their seats, commencing the start of the 91st Minnesota Legislature’s first session. As they were for the past two years, the House and Senate are controlled by the DFL and Republican Party respectively, presenting a challenge to legislation. But 2021 will be different from 2020, and MEP and our allies are committed to making sure that it is for the better.

Right now, our nation and our communities are grappling with the profoundly disturbing crimes inflicted at the US Capitol on Wednesday. As of this writing, state patrol officers are still stationed outside the Minnesota State Capitol. In these times, our commitment to democratic participation, racial and environmental justice, and safety for all communities has never been more important.

Legislators face critical governance questions this year, and MEP will be pushing to make them decide in favor of the climate action, ecological restoration, and public health measures we need. Here’s a preview of some of those questions:

How do we address the budget deficit equitably? Minnesota is forecasted to deal with a $1.27 billion budget deficit from mid-2021-2023, something that the Legislature will have to take into account when crafting a funding package this year. Issues that may influence this budget include possible federal aid for local government, balancing spending and taxation, and shifting priorities. With Minnesota’s families struggling due to the pandemic, lawmakers need to find solutions that prevent further harm.

The Legislature should recognize that one important way out of this economic crisis is to invest in sustainable projects that benefit Minnesotans. Energy efficiency, replacing water infrastructure, the development of new farming systems – these are programs that create jobs in the long-term and improve our quality of life. That should be reflected in the state budget.

Recent budget omnibus bills have included policy pills that harm our environment, stripping away protections for natural resources in favor of industrial special interests. Fighting these proposals, and showing that ordinary Minnesotans oppose them, will continue to be a top MEP priority.

Can we stop Line 3 in the Legislature? A number of Legislators elected in November are strongly opposed to the Line 3 pipeline’s construction, and we deeply appreciate their efforts. However, lawmakers on the opposite side have made yearly attempts to stifle protest against the pipeline, with bills that chill free speech and threaten to divide the resistance. These bills cannot be allowed to pass.

How will we reach carbon neutrality and protect the climate? Though COVID-19 relief is at the top of mind for all of us, we cannot ignore the growing crisis of climate change. As President-elect Biden said in August, climate change is one of the four major crises America faces, along with racial injustice, the pandemic, and the suffering economy. MEP and our allies will continue to push Legislators to bring Minnesota to carbon neutrality, through efforts that cut emissions like clean transportation and electricity, and efforts that absorb emissions like climate-friendly farming systens and ecological restoration.

How can Minnesota address racial and social injustice? Events of the past year have made it clearer than ever that the United States generally – and Minnesota in particular – face a reckoning on racial inequity. The disparities between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color in our state are wide in areas like income, housing, public safety, environmental quality, and health. While the Legislature passed some law enforcement reforms in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last year, much more work remains to be done.

Minnesotans’ voices will be critical. Though most legislative meetings will be held remotely this year, Minnesota legislators continue to need and want to hear their constituents’ voices. We encourage you to contact your lawmakers to let them know your priorities for 2021, and MEP will provide opportunities to do so on specific issues throughout the session.

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