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White House looks to Minnesota as a model for infrastructure, paid leave and climate policies

State DFL leaders told officials how they passed a sweeping progressive policy agenda and how they plan to implement it.

By Briana Bierschbach and Rochelle Olson Star Tribune JUNE 22, 2023 — 10:03AM

Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders met with senior White House officials on Thursday to highlight a historically productive 2023 session, holding up Minnesota as a model for other states looking to enact paid leave programs and sweeping clean energy policies.

"Everybody out here is noticing," said Walz, shortly after back-to-back morning meetings at the White House, adding that the message from federal officials was: "These are things that we want to get done for the country and you are implementing them. What can we do to be successful?"

The trip is the latest stop on a national campaign to prop up the long list of progressive proposals Walz and the DFL-led Legislature passed in a five-month span, from an ambitious clean energy standard and legalizing marijuana to codifying abortion rights. The governor also recently spoke at an event with the Indiana Democratic Party.

The White House events focused on Minnesota's passage of a statewide paid family and medical leave program, as well as climate and infrastructure legislation.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, members of the Walz administration, as well as House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic attended the events with senior White House officials. State Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina, also attended the event focused on Minnesota's paid family and medical leave program, which she carried in the Legislature.

Walz said they met with John Podesta and Mitch Landrieu, both senior advisers to the president, to talk about the federal infrastructure package.

The governor said both sides asked questions about funding that's available and how it's going to be rolled out. Walz noted that Democrats included $2.4 billion in the state's two-year budget that can be used to leverage federal dollars for construction projects in the state.

"We maxed out matching funds like no other state," he said. "[Senior officials] really wanted to hear how to do that, so they can go to other states and tell them, 'you should be doing it this way.' "

Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said the group talked a lot about clean energy and broadband. "You can't do precision agriculture in greater Minnesota without the broadband and Wi-Fi," she said in a phone interview, describing the process of applying modern technology to farming.

She said White House staffers were appreciative of what Minnesota had accomplished in the session, but Dziedzic wanted to hear from them about getting a good return for the state. "Minnesota sends more money to the federal government than we get back, so from my perspective it's about how can we maximize federal dollars to help Minnesotans," she said.

The legislators didn't meet with Biden personally, but Dziedzic said, "It felt productive. We hope to continue that partnership as we apply for federal grants to help with projects across the state."

In the evening, Walz was scheduled to attend an official state dinner with Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Roughly 400 guests were invited to the black-tie affair, Biden's third state dinner since taking office.

Modi is in the United States this week as the Biden administration tries to boost defense and trade ties with India. The prime minister addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday.

Modi is a polarizing figure in India and the U.S. His nationalist Hindu party has come under scrutiny for alleged human rights violations and a crackdown on dissent. Several members of Congress boycotted his speech, including Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. "Prime Minister Modi's government has repressed religious minorities, emboldened violent Hindu nationalist groups, and targeted journalists/human rights advocates with impunity," Omar tweeted.

Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.


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