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New DFL majority moves fast to confirm commissioners and pass unifying bills

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What a difference a single vote and a DFL majority in the State Senate make.

Gov. Tim Walz’s six new state commissioners are scheduled for quick committee hearings and confirmations — barring disqualifying surprises — now that Democrats control the Senate 34-33.

Contrast that with the DFL Governor’s first term. The GOP-led Senate has slowed confirmations, using them as leverage. Many commissioners have served without a confirmation vote, meaning the Senate could fire them at any time.

In a special session in August 2020, the Senate rejected in a party vote Nancy Leppink as Commissioner of Labor and Industry, a post she had held since February 2019.

In September 2020, the Senate ousted Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, and the following July, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop resigned ahead of a Senate vote she stood to lose.

In late 2021, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm was targeted for removal from office over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has served her term, retiring at the end of last year without being confirmed.

“It’s gone from a bargaining chip to a downhill course,” Steven Schier, a retired political science professor at Carleton College, said of the Senate confirmation process.

Confirmations are part of the items on the agenda. The DFL is advancing rapidly, to the dismay of Republicans. Other major DFL laws include repealing abortion restrictions, restoring felons’ voting rights and paid family leave.

“They focus on things that unify them, which is smart,” Schier said. “The other impression I have is that Republicans are basically spectators.”

During a House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee hearing last week on additional funding for the office of DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison, Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia , expressed frustration with the lack of discussion. “There doesn’t seem to be much interest in working together on this,” he said.

At a session of the Senate Elections Committee, Republican senators expressed similar disappointment at the DFL’s push for approval of a bill allowing felons to vote after completing the incarceration portion of their sentences. .

“You talked about bipartisan work on this committee,” said Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton. “I’m still hoping that will happen, but it doesn’t seem to be happening here today.”

Chairman Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, responded, “We want it to be bipartisan. We want it to be balanced to get out of these committees.”

Both committees have advanced bills on party-line votes.

Nash then expressed concern. “I fear the voice of the minority is potentially being stifled,” he said.

Schier said the LDF “loads the agenda because it sees it as a rare opportunity”.

He also said they were building goodwill before tackling “tricky” issues the party isn’t unified on, such as refund checks, Social Security taxes and funding for the education.

“It’s easy to lift now; the heavy lifting is coming,” Schier said.

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