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House lawmakers gather in St. Paul with swift action expected on at least one priority

Rep. Melissa Hortman is sworn in as House speaker on the first day of the 2023 legislative session, Jan 3. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)
Rep. Melissa Hortman is sworn in as House speaker on the first day of the 2023 legislative session, Jan 3. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

The House is back in session, and it is live.

After almost three years of most committee meetings and many floor sessions being conducted primarily via teleconferencing due to the pandemic, House members gathered in person once again Tuesday under the increasingly snow-covered dome of the State Capitol.

And that’s the plan for the 2023 legislative session, as the adopted temporary rules call for exclusively in-person legislating.

While about one-third of House members are new to the chamber, a familiar face returned to the dais when House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) was re-elected to the body’s top post. She was challenged by House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring) but prevailed by a 70-63 party-line vote. One member was absent.

Election of Rep. Melissa Hortman as House speaker for 2023-24 session 1/3/23

“Today, we make history, having sworn in the most diverse group of legislators Minnesota has ever seen,” Hortman said after assuming the post. “The first transgender legislator. The first nonbinary legislator. Thirty-five legislators of color. … The first woman and person of color to lead the minority caucus in the House. … Minnesota government is increasingly reflective of the people of Minnesota.”

Hortman emphasized that returning to working in person will likely make a difference this session.

“The most important work that we do together will not be the communications we have over microphones, in committee, at press conferences or on the House floor,” she said. “The most important work we do together will be those conversations in our offices, out in the rotunda, and when we break bread together.

“Let’s work hard. Let’s work quickly. Let’s work together to meet the needs of Minnesotans.”

The lone point of debate was a brief one.

Demuth wished to confirm that the adopted temporary rules called for meeting exclusively in person, not virtually. House Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls) confirmed that to be the case. Adoption of the temporary rules passed 117-16.

Party priorities

Upon adjournment, Hortman said abortion rights will be a top priority this session.

House DFL Media Availability 1/3/23

“The electorate sent a really strong message to their elected leaders in the state of Minnesota that they value their reproductive freedoms and bodily autonomy,” Hortman said. “If you don’t have bodily autonomy, you don’t have anything.”

Legislation encoding the right to have an abortion in state law is scheduled to be heard in the House Health Finance and Policy Committee Thursday, she said.

In a separate briefing, Demuth staked out her party’s position on that issue.

“We are a pro-life caucus and we are proud of that,” she said. “I do know that Minnesotans are not extreme. Abortions should not be legal up to the moment of birth, so we need to have conversations around that.”

Hortman said passing the $1.1 billion bonding bill left unfinished from last session is also a focus.

House Republican Media Availability 1/3/23

“Let’s do the bonding bill right away,” she said, adding there was a bipartisan agreement in the House — but no bill nor formal vote — for that dollar amount last spring. The Republican-led Senate did not support that level of investment.

Demuth believes legislators can work across the aisle, and that Minnesotans are looking for that now. She spoke of issues that members of both parties advocated for on the campaign trail.

She cited “tax relief for Minnesotans, public safety, ending fraud within our agencies and state, and making things better in Minnesota for families and for businesses” as being places where common ground could be found between the parties, adding that tax conformity is historically a bipartisan issue and that both parties campaigned on ending the tax on Social Security benefits.

“I will always have hope, I will always have optimism,” Demuth said. “It takes a lot of hard work and having hard conversations, and when we disagree, we do it in a respectful way.”

 — Session Daily writers Margaret Stevens and Tim Walker contributed to this story.

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