Minnesota Senate Debates Gun Regulation, Legalizing Pot, And Social Security Tax Repeal!
Despite only having a one-seat majority in the Minnesota Senate, Democrats have managed to pass significant policy bills, including the codification of abortion rights, the restoration of voting rights for felons, and the issuance of driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants.
Three major issues, including gun control, marijuana legalization, and whether to eliminate Minnesota’s tax on Social Security benefits, have the potential to drive a wedge between their caucus and the rest of the legislature in the second half of the session.
During conversations with the Star Tribune, several Democratic senators revealed their divergent perspectives. An individual DFL defection may kill a bill with a 34-33 majority. State Senator Aric Putnam (D-St. Cloud) said, “There’s a sense the DFL train is running everything, and that’s not reality at all.”
Putnam is the chief sponsor of legislation to eliminate the tax on Social Security benefits and legalize recreational marijuana. “It’s all really intricate. It looks like we’ll be talking for quite some time. The whole session is going to be a chat.” As the party in control of the House of Representatives since 2019, the Democrats enjoy a comfortable six-seat majority and the benefit of extensive institutional knowledge.
In prior years, they had success in passing gun control and marijuana legalization legislation, only to have it stymied by the then-Republican-led Senate. After taking control of the Senate for the first time since 2016 in November, the newly elected Democrats are still trying to determine the positions of individual members of their caucus.
It’s a common misconception that lawmakers and constituents in greater Minnesota are strictly divided along party lines. Three new DFL senators have voiced reservations about proposed gun control measures: Robert Kupec of Moorhead, Grant Hauschild of Hermantown, and Judy Seeberger of Afton.
Most private firearm transfers would be subject to expanded criminal background checks, a red-flag law would allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from people deemed dangerous, and gun owners would be required to store their firearms unloaded and separately from their ammunition, to name the three main gun bills being considered.
Kupec has expressed reservations about all of the gun legislation, but he has been unwilling to elaborate on his specific positions due to ongoing negotiations. In the right bill’s form, he could see himself voting for new restrictions, but “I don’t know if we’re going to get there or not,” he said.
House members Hauschild and Seeberger both voiced opposition to the firearm storage bill, stating that they are against legislation that would mandate individuals to keep their firearms and ammo in two different locations.
Seeberger argued that Democrats must find a middle ground between protecting constitutional rights and reducing gun violence. Advocates for gun rights have already targeted Hauschild with radio and internet commercials urging his voters to contact him since he may provide the deciding vote on gun legislation.
Ads in the state of Minnesota warned that passage of strict gun laws was only one vote away. The freshman senator claims he is still talking about the background check and red flag bills with “constituents and sheriffs and police” before taking a public stance on them.
The same may be said of a bill to legalize recreational marijuana; Hauschild is refusing to declare whether or not he would support it. “In the meantime, I will continue to examine it. I’d like to make sure we’re having productive conversations with the authorities about any potential problems, “He went on to say.
Both Kupec and Sen. Heather Gustafson (DFL-Vadnais Heights), another freshman legislator, have expressed support for legalizing marijuana if local governments are given the authority to establish their own rules for the drug’s use and sale. Kupec has stated that he hopes to prevent a repeat of the uncontrolled “disaster” that followed the sudden legalization of low-dose THC edibles last year.
Seeberger is in favor of adult-use marijuana legalization and regulation, but she wants the bill to include tools for identifying impaired drivers. Some senators, like John Hoffman (DFL–Champlin), have been reticent to come out in favor of marijuana legalization.
In an interview, he emphasized the importance of keeping the state’s medical cannabis program open and including funding for addiction treatment and recovery in the marijuana bill. He said he would back the bill, but only if those issues were resolved. Seeberger, Gustafson, Kupec, and Hauschild, all newcomers, are unanimous in wanting to get rid of the state tax on Social Security in Minnesota.
That, Seeberger argued, was what the people really wanted. It provides the comfort that our aging population really needs. With this stance, the four senators are at odds with the DFL’s top brass. Both Governor Tim Walz and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, a Minneapolis Democrat, want to keep the tax in place for the state’s wealthiest residents while partially repealing it for everyone else.
Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL–Brooklyn Park) has voiced concern about the potential future costs of a complete repeal. Both the House and the Senate are Republican-controlled, and they are working to eliminate the Social Security tax entirely.
Minority Leader of the Republican Senate, Mark Johnson, has said that any one of the new DFL senators “could make the difference on whether we get that done or not.” “It’s something they’ve promised,” said Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. Nick Frentz (DFL–North Mankato), the assistant majority leader in the Senate, refused to discuss the bills he was working on or reveal his personal views.
Nonetheless, he assured them that everyone is working hard behind the scenes to reach an agreement and prevent a pileup before the session ends in May. I’d like to believe we can manage the schedule and finish on time,” Frentz added. Putnam shared this view, adding that arrangements are being made in the background. We’ve been yelling at each other behind closed doors for weeks, but when we come out here on the floor it looks easy,” he said.