Passing legislation protecting reproductive rights, improving mental health funding, and measures to improve gun safety are among the priorities of Eden Prairie representatives in the Minnesota Legislature that begins its session on Jan. 3.
Legislators that represent Eden Prairie, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, District 49A Rep. Laurie Pryor, and 49B Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, all Democrats who were elected in November, gathered virtually on Dec. 30 with Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) to share their thoughts on the upcoming 2023 Minnesota legislative session.
The legislators answered questions about a number of issues. Their responses are edited for length.
EPLN: What will be your first act in the new legislature?
Cwodzinski: The first bill I will introduce is Menstrual Equity, providing free period products for young girls 4th grade through 12th grade.
Pryor: One of the first things I think the House is going to pass is making sure we guarantee access to reproductive health. Losing [Roe v. Wade], we need to put into statute now safeguards and protection of reproductive health.
Kotyza-Witthuhn: I am going to be carrying the Protect Reproductive Options Act, which will codify abortion access and reproductive health care–the PRO Act.
EPLN: Do you know your actual and potential committee assignments?
Pryor: Chair of Education Policy; Education Finance; Human Services Finance.
Kotyza-Witthuhn: Vice Chair of Commerce; Children and Families; Human Services Finance; Economic Development.
Cwodzinski: Education Finance; Education Policy; State and Local Government; Elections.
EPLN: Is education pretty much provided for, or is education underserved?
Kotyza-Witthuhn: We know that education has been underfunded for years. That goes back to the recession of ’08 and ’09 when Governor Pawlenty and the legislature had to make some cuts.
Pryor: We have disparities in educational outcomes.
Cwodzinski: The peak year was 2003, and we have been sliding back since then. We need to fund at 2003 levels and then index to inflation.
EPLN: Is decriminalization of recreational marijuana use a priority issue?
Cwodzinski: It will pass. Right now it’s a smorgasbord of communities with different laws, and we just want to clean that up.
Pryor: We have a priority to have a system of regulation. The House has already put together a comprehensive bill. We can improve on that.
Kotyza-Witthuhn: I will be running that hearing in the Commerce Committee when the bill comes through.
EPLN: Will there be increased funding for mental health? If so, for all?
Kotyza-Witthuhn: That would be my hope. It is becoming less and less stigmatized.
Cwodzinski: It will be a priority across the board starting with the schools, our young population through our senior years,
Pryor: The many stakeholders that work in mental health have come together with one agenda, providing for better care and earlier care.
EPLN: Is gun control a realistic goal?
Kotyza-Witthuhn: As the DFL House majority had moved a red flag law and a universal criminal background check law back in 2019, I would expect that we would see those bills on the priority list. It’s time for us to make a commitment to save as many lives as we can.
Pryor: We think of it as gun violence prevention
Cwodzinski: Now it is a priority in the Senate.
EPLN: Are there bipartisan issues?
Kotyza-Witthuhn: We will continue the conversation on removing Minnesota income tax from Social Security. All three of us have supported that. I hope that that is a good starting point.
Cwodzinski: It remains to be seen. In the next month, the genie will be out of the bottle.
Pryor: Both parties are interested in a bonding bill. Also, the transportation money that was passed at the Federal level, there is whole series of steps we have to go through.
EPLN: What will you be able to do on issues that particularly affect Eden Prairie? The construction of the light rail? The pervasive, expensive theft of catalytic converters?
Kotyza-Witthuhn: We passed a pilot program [on catalytic converters], and we have given additional funding for Eden Prairie police. Our local police are working on etching catalytic converters with numbers or a name.
Cwodzinski: The Southwest Light Rail auditor’s report comes out at the end of January. I think this will show that we need more transparency in the process. I think Laurie and Carlie and I [Eden Prairie] have the most light rail stops of any senate district. Regarding catalytic converters, we need to figure how to not make an undue burden on [scrap metal dealers].
Pryor: As we talk to voters door-to-door, what people talk about more as a problem than anything else is education. The Eden Prairie community really values education, and I’m going to include early childhood education.
EPLN: In Minnesota, how vulnerable are women’s rights?
Kotyza-Witthuhn: The exact same thing could happen in Minnesota that happened with Roe v. Wade. One of our [Minnesota Supreme Court] judges will age out in Governor Walz’s second term. That’s why we are moving forward with the Protect Reproductive Options Act.
Pryor and Cwodzinski: Carlie said it for us.
EPLN: What is the greatest strength of the Minnesota Republican party?
Pryor: Consistency. They have one issue: lower taxes and smaller government. This is also their weakness. The policy does not fit every problem.
Cwodzinski: We want to have a strong two-party system. We need the push and pull of the opposite side. The people want us to get along–no obstruction.
Kotyza-Witthuhn: The Republicans in the Legislature are Minnesotans. There are lots of good people who are Republicans. The next session of the Legislature we have almost seventy new people from both sides of the aisle. We have an opportunity to find that common ground.
EPLN: Does Minnesota have a lot of aspirations but fail to achieve them?
Pryor: We go back to the “Minnesota Miracle” that says that we can be a high taxes state and a high services state. We care about our neighbors. Our government cares about how people are treated. We want fair opportunity for everybody.
Cwodzinski: I thought that was beautiful.
Kotyza-Witthuhn: Me too.
[Representative Kotyza-Witthuhn had to leave for another obligation.]
Cwodzinski: [Funding in education] has not been attended to. I would return back to 2003 levels. Get that number back to the teachers, counselors, and students. Then index it for inflation.
EPLN: What is a right way to handle a $17 billion surplus?
Cwodzinski: Last session there was a good compromise: one-third to go to education and mental health, one-third to go back to taxpayers, and one-third for a rainy day fund.
Editor’s Note: Frank Malley is a DFL precinct chair in the Senate District 49.
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