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ERA, Mardi Gras and apple blondies: Day 1 of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session

Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke at an ERA rally at the Capitol, joined on stage by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (left) and state Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, on Feb. 12, 2024. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

By Michelle Griffith, Minnesota Reformer

Hundreds of advocates for gun restrictions, making Minnesota a sanctuary state and passing the Equal Rights Amendment welcomed lawmakers back to the Capitol Monday, bursting with cheers, chants, prayers, songs — and requests for funding for their causes.

During even-numbered years, the Minnesota Legislature typically passes policy-focused legislation and an infrastructure package to fund critical public works projects. Lawmakers on Monday said that even though this year will be less hectic than their historic 2023 session, they will still work to improve the lives of Minnesotans. DFL leaders say their 2024 agenda will convince voters this November to keep them in control of the House — the only legislative body on the ballot this fall.

“The Capitol is a place to hear rumors — and as usual the place is full of rumors — and one of them that I am hearing … is that this is a session where we won’t have a lot of work because we did so much last session,” said Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, during a press conference. “We passed a powerful agenda last session. We did. But that doesn’t mean we’ve run out of good ideas.”

Murphy has been majority leader all of six days, following an announcement by Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, that her cancer has returned and would step aside from leadership. 

Hours before Legislature gaveled in, colorful alebrijes — large papier-mâché puppets depicting fantastical creatures — lined the bottom of the Capitol steps, mounted on bicycles — as part of a call to lawmakers to fund a Latino museum in St. Paul. 

Rep. María Isa Pérez Vega, DFL-St. Paul, is advocating for the museum, one of many priorities outlined by some of the state’s most influential Latino organizations Monday morning. 

Before entering the Capitol, Pérez Vega hopped on one of the bikes. “I rode it all the way here from the West Side,” she joked.

Artists placed alebrijes — depictions of fantastical creatures, a Mexican art tradition — in front of the Capitol on the first day of the 2024 legislative session as part of a campaign to secure state funding for a Latino art and culture museum. Photo by Madison McVan/Minnesota Reformer.

Inside the building, hundreds of advocates clad in green held a rally in the rotunda to advocate for amending the Minnesota Constitution to include an Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit the state from discriminating against any person on account of race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression or pregnancy outcomes.

Lawmakers said at the rally that they will pass a bill this year that would put the constitutional amendment before voters in 2026. House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, wore a green handkerchief belonging to his mother. Long said his mother wanted to be a geologist, but she was told a woman can’t hold that kind of career, so she changed her career trajectory. 

“But you know what my mom did have? She lived under Roe v. Wade for most of her life,” Long said. “I can’t say the same for my 5-year-old daughter right now. We can’t live in a country where our moms or our grandmothers had more rights than our daughters.”

Gov. Tim Walz greeted House and Senate members before their sessions with apple blondie bars, followed closely by an assemblage of media members and a staffer with a stack of napkins emblazoned with a gold state seal.

Gov. Tim Walz gave out apple blondies with maple cinnamon glaze to Republican House members on Feb. 12, 2024. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

After giving away three trays of bars, the governor held a scrum with reporters, all of whom were trying to get a sense of what bills he will sign this session. 

Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a bill Monday that would ban the sale of some semi-automatic rifles, including AK-47s and AR-15s. 

When asked if he would support this ban, Walz said he would need to look at the bill language, but he supports smart firearm legislation, like the red flag laws passed last year. 

“The one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is we do not need these weapons of war in our classrooms, on our streets, in the Capitol building,” Walz said. “I’m interested to see what comes up.”

During the House floor session, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, pushed for an emergency vote on a Republican bill that would allow school resource officers to place students in a face-down (prone) hold. The issue consumed Minnesota politics for a few weeks last year after a number of police agencies pulled officers out of schools over concerns about the new law, which bans adults in schools from using prone holds.

Republicans have pushed for an immediate change to the prone restraint law since August when Demuth and other Republicans called for a special session.

“We can bring this forward and fix this today,” Demuth said. 

Her motion failed, and the first hearing on the prone restraint issue was to take place Monday. 

Walz said he anticipates the SRO legislative fix will be one of the first bills to reach his desk for a signature.

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, surrounded by other Senate leaders, held a press conference about her caucus’ priorities on Feb. 12, 2024. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, invited her fellow senators and Senate staffers for a Mardi Gras party. After the Senate adjourned, Rest handed out Mardi Gras beads to other senators.

Rest holds a Mardi Gras party in her office every year, with a King Cake. A baby figurine or a golden coin rests within the cake, and whichever staff member or senator gets the prize in their cake slice has to bake the Mardi Gras cake for next year’s get-together.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.