by Jane McClure
Lots of new faces and familiar faces in new roles will greet self-advocates when the Minnesota Legislature convenes in January. With DFL majorities entering both the House and Senate, and the re-election of DFL Gov. Tim Walz, it’s the first time since 2014 that one party has controlled at three branches of state government. But the majorities are slim and with years of pent-up demand for program and spending asks, anything could happen.
Change afoot at four state departments is also being eyed. A big loss for Minnesotans with disabilities is Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm’s decision to not seek reappointment. Malcolm’s legacy include years of service to Minnesotans with disabilities.
The November 8 election triggered a flurry of activity for disability advocacy groups and self-advocates. Many are hurrying to get bill language in before the Christmas holidays.
Before the election, the Minnesota Legislature was already facing its greatest turnover since 1972.
While many disability-focused bills for past years are being brought back in 2023, not all bill authors are returning. There’s also the wait to find out if there will be changes in House and Senate committee structures, and committee leadership.
There are also the numbers games with House and Senate membership. The Senate flipped from Republican to DFL control, but only by a 34-33 margin. In the House, the DFL margin went from 71-63 to 70-64.
Leadership changes were announced right after the election. Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) returns as House speaker designee. Rep. Jamie Long (DFL Minneapolis) is tabbed to be majority leader.
Rep. Lisa DeMuth (R- Cold Spring) will be the new minority leader.
The incoming Senate majority leader is Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis). Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, another Minneapolis DFLer, will be president of the Senate. Sen John Marty (DFL-Roseville) will be chair of finance, and Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) will be tax chair.
Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) will be minority leader.
As Access Press reached the deadline for this issue, other committee leadership and any changes in committee structure hadn’t been announced.
Work continues on legislative agendas. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) hoped to wrap up its work soon.
The Minnesota Council on Disability hosts its 2023 legislative forum, noon to 2 p.m. Friday, December 16. The event will be virtual. Learn about the council’s legislative agenda, hear elected officials and their thoughts on disability policy, and learn from citizen advocates. Sign up through the state council web page, at https://www.disability.state.mn.us/
Rally days are also being planned, with many groups hoping to return to in-person or hybrid events.
Walz announced his cabinet November 15. Although most leaders are returning, Malcolm’s decision to retire will be deeply felt. She guided the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other leaders who chose to step down are Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Education Commissioner Heather Mueller and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commissioner Mark Phillips.
Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan now must also replace leaders of the Departments of Revenue and Labor and Industry. Robert Doty of Revenue is now at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Labor and Industry Commissioner Roslyn Robertson retired.
“I’m grateful to our entire cabinet for their years of service to Minnesota,” Walz said in a statement. “Together, we made historic investments in education, achieved the lowest unemployment rate of any state in history, and protected the health and safety of Minnesotans. I look forward to building the team that will help us kick off our second term.”
Malcolm, 67, has served as a cabinet member for three governors. She was appointed to lead the health department by Gov. Mark Dayton, then continued as Gov. Jesse Ventura’s health commissioner, from 1999-2003. Key focuses during those years were elder abuse and tobacco and its adverse health impacts.
Malcolm was referred to by news media as “Minnesota’s Dr. Fauci.” She faced much pushback and criticism for preventative measures brought forward to control COVID-19. Republican lawmakers tried to block her confirmation.
She has served in other public health and disability service capacities, including serving as CEO of Courage Center, now Courage Kenny. She has also been vice president of public affairs and philanthropy at Allina Health and served as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota at the School of Public Health.