The curtain rises on the 2024 Minnesota Legislature February 12, for a bonding and policy year. Gov. Tim Walz released his bonding recommendations January 16. State academies and other access-related needs were cited, but many local requests were left out.
It’s also an election year for the Minnesota House. That means several members have already announced their retirements at year’s end. In one case, there is a resignation taking effect the day before the session’s start.
Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), who served as Speaker of the House from 2015 to 2019, announced in January that he will resign his District 27B seat effective February 11. Details on a special election haven’t been announced.
Daudt, who represents portions of several counties in east-central Minnesota including the city of Princeton, said in a statement that serving the people of Minnesota “has been the greatest honor of my life.” He thanked his friends and neighbors for their trust in him during his time at the capitol. Daudt was first elected in 2010.
The upcoming retirements include lawmakers who have been champions of disability issues. As Access Press went to press, 13 House members announced that this will be their final session. The list includes Representatives Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), Brian Daniels (R-Faribault), Pat Garafalo (R-Farmington), Matt Grossell (R-Clearbrook), Shane Hudella (R-Hastings), Debra Kiel (R-Crookston), Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth), Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona), John Petersburg (R-Waseca), Brian Pfarr (R-LeSueur) and Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka).
While the retirements have drawn attention, much focus has been on bonding. Walz’ proposal is for a $982 million public infrastructure plan. It’s much smaller than the $2.6 billion bonding package approved in 2023. That package set a state record.
At a news conference Walz called his bonding proposal, “my big show for this legislative session.”
Legislators will no doubt jockey to get projects from their districts in, so the list is a work in process at this point. The list also leaves out many state needs. It’s estimated that the state has about $6.4 billion in deferred capital maintenance.
A big part of the governor’s bonding package is $142 million for public safety projects, including $22 million to buy land and start design for a centralized headquarters for the Minnesota State Highway Patrol.
Disability advocates can find some reason to celebrate. State academies would have two pre-design requests funded if Walz’s bonding package is adopted. At the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD), a new student center is on the list. Walz recommends $300,000 to replace up to five older campus buildings with a single student center.
Pre-design funding is also recommended for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) therapy pool and related improvements. The recommendation is also for $300,000.
Asset preservation is the largest recommendation for both campuses, at $1.227 million. The campuses have deferred maintenance needs estimated at $33.155 million.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS)is in line for $12.266 million in assets preservation statewide. But that could be seen as a drop in the bucket, as the DHS deferred maintenance list of projects totals $184.1 million.
Improving accessibility of Department of Natural Resources (DNR)-managed lands and facilities is penciled in for $2 million. That would help to complete accessibility projects at high-visitation state parks and wildlife management areas.
Housing is a focus with a $50 million recommendation for several types of supportive housing and $7.5 million for public housing rehabilitation. The University of Minnesota would receive $102.994 million for asset preservation through the state system
And while access improvements are routinely built into projects, the capitol complex tunnel system and its access challenges appear to be among the many projects slated to wait until next time. The tunnel’s steep slope is problematic for people with disabilities.
Events coming up
Many organizations have set their 2024 legislative agendas, and are planning rally days. With so many groups holding days, Access Press is focusing on events organized by several groups.
Mental Health Day on the Hill is Thursday, March 7. It is sponsored by the Mental Health Legislative Network, on Thursday, March 7, 2024. For more details, go to Mental Health Day on the Hill.
ARRM and MOHR are gearing up for the annual Disability Services Day at the Capitol Tuesday, March 19. The rally in the rotunda will begin at 10 a.m. This is always a very large and well-attended event. Check arrm.org and mohrmn.org for details and how to sign up.
Disability Advocacy Day at the Capital is Wednesday, March 27, with an 11 a.m. rally. That is always preceded by a 9 a.m. gathering at the Transportation Building for poster making and organization. The Minnesota Council on Disability is one of the organizers. Go to Minnesota Council on Disability. The state council’s 2024 agenda can be found at that website as well.
Contact individual groups about legislative agendas and events. Use the state capitol public events calendar to check on groups. For the latter, go to Capitol Complex Events Calendar.
As Access Press went to press, the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities was setting its 2024 agenda and working on the Wednesdays at the Capitol series. Go to Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities for details.
Editor Jane McClure compiled this article. The Minnesota Legislature website keeps a running tally of House retirements.