It’s not the set-up for a joke, but it will be pretty commonplace come January when a new group of lawmakers makes its way to St. Paul for the 2019 legislative session.
The incoming group of lawmakers brings a hodgepodge of professional experience that could influence how they write bills and make decisions about what becomes law.
That means legislators drafting policy to bring down the cost of health care could page the doctor caucus, four MDs turned lawmakers, or one of a handful of nurses, home care workers and mental health therapists. And five others who work in the insurance business could pull up a chair.
Governor-elect Tim Walz will have more than 20 current or former teachers there to help make good on his promise to make Minnesota the Education State.
And small business owners will have a strong voice at the Capitol, where a quarter of lawmakers — the largest group of any occupation — worked in business, with the bulk reporting they ran their own small business.
While professional experience doesn’t determine what lawmakers propose or how they might vote, it can affect how they frame debates at the Capitol and propose solutions. And having that first-hand experience can help inform others who are mulling policy changes.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said when the Legislature considered changes to the laws governing advanced practice registered nurses in 2014, she was front and center.
“I knew things that most legislators would have no knowledge of, I mean how would they?” said Kiffmeyer, a former nurse. Kiffmeyer also served as Minnesota Secretary of State.
Kiffmeyer said she’ll again bring that insight to St. Paul as lawmakers consider sunsetting a tax on medical providers, which she views as an unfair expense for sick people seeking care, and allowing people to opt into the MinnesotaCare program. The latter could financially “decimate” providers, she said, as the state pays lower rates than private insurers for patient services.
Representative-elect Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, hopes he can convince his new peers to consider the opt-in as a means of providing a health insurance plan that’s more affordable for Minnesota families and driving additional competition in the market.
Cantrell is a home care aide who has worked with adults and children with physical and developmental disabilities. And he said he’s seen Minnesotans who can’t afford or can’t access the care they need. The Democrat said that context is key as he approaches funding and policy debates at the Capitol.
“If I don’t advocate for them, if we don’t, who will?” Cantrell said.
Rep. Peggy Bennett said part of the reason she got into politics was to bring a teacher’s perspective to the Statehouse. The Albert Lea Republican worked in classrooms for 33 years before becoming a legislator.
“Some of the things that came down from the state level just didn’t make sense,” Bennett said.
So she set out to fix them. Bennett said more proposals should come from the classroom or operating room or courtroom, rather than from the top down.
“I’m a real believer in bottom-up policy,” she said. “That’s why we need to stay connected to teachers.”