Year in review: A look back at top Minnesota stories from 2022
The election, strikes and the abortion debate made headlines in Minnesota this year.
ST. PAUL — Whether it was the race for the governor's office, the biggest private sector nurses strike in U.S. history, or Minnesota becoming a regional haven for abortion, 2022 was yet another eventful year in Minnesota news.
Here are some of the bigger stories Forum News Service covered in the state this year:
Minnesota an abortion island
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Minnesota became a virtual island for abortion access in the Upper Midwest. Even though the Supreme Court’s ruling ended federal protections for abortion access, the 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Gomez ensures continued constitutional protections for abortion in the state.
Abortion is now illegal in almost all cases in Wisconsin and South Dakota. North Dakota has a "trigger law" abortion ban tied to the high court’s decision, but it was temporarily blocked by a district judge and awaits a final decision from the state’s supreme court. Abortion remains legal in Iowa, though that state’s supreme court nullified a constitutional right to abortion in that state in 2022, clearing the path for Republicans to pursue further restrictions.
Abortion rights supporters scored a victory in Minnesota just weeks after the overturning of Roe, when a Ramsey County District judge tossed laws restricting the procedure. A 24-hour wait period and a requirement for minors to disclose an abortion to both parents were among the rules the judge found unconstitutional.
THC edibles legal
For years, advocates of legal recreational marijuana have had nothing but frustration in getting Minnesota to change its drug laws. But they managed to score a victory this year with a piece of legislation that surprised many — including one lawmaker who claimed he didn’t fully understand the bill after voting in its favor.
Food and beverages containing delta-9 THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis that gets users high, became legal in Minnesota on July 1 under a new law regulating hemp. Buyers must be 21 or older.
“That doesn’t legalize marijuana. We didn’t just do that,” Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said in a conference committee in May as lawmakers approved the bill. Technically speaking, he’s right, advocates say. The new law regulates hemp, a cannabis product from which psychoactive THC can be derived.
Consumable products containing less than 5 milligrams of THC per serving and 50 milligrams per package can now be sold in Minnesota, providing they are derived from hemp, which must contain less than 0.3% THC under federal law.
Minnesota in 2022 saw high-profile strikes by labor unions fighting for better pay and benefits, including the largest private sector nurses strike in U.S. history.
In September, 15,500 Minnesota Nurses Association nurses at 16 hospitals in the Twin Cities, Twin Ports and Moose Lake walked off the job for three days. Contract negotiations that had been underway with hospitals since March broke down amid what the union called a nursing shortage crisis. MNA was pushing for a more than 30% raise over three years.
MNA again threatened a strike in December but called it off after reaching a tentative agreement with the hospitals. Under the agreement, Twin Ports nurses would get a 17% pay raise over three years and Twin Cities nurses would receive an 18% pay increase over three years.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers also went on a two-week strike in March. Minneapolis Public Schools is among Minnesota’s biggest districts and has more than 30,000 students.
Minnesota’s public defenders' union last spring also authorized a strike over high caseloads, but reached a deal with the judicial system.
For more than 30 years, state government in Minnesota has typically been divided between parties, meaning Democrats and Republicans could rarely move forward with major legislation without making compromises with the other.
But the agenda at the Capitol in St. Paul this January will look a lot different after Democrats won complete control of state government in the November election. They last held the "trifecta" of the House Senate and governor's office 2013-14.
With control of the two legislative chambers and the governor’s office, DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz will be able to take more decisive action on policy priorities as they will no longer have to make major compromises with Senate Republicans. That could include increasing funding for education, the creation of a paid family leave program, and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
At the end of 2022, it may all seem like a distant memory to some. But let’s not forget that 2022 kicked off with a record surge in COVID-19 cases that triggered school closures, the return of masking requirements and even proof of vaccine-or-negative test requirements in some Minnesota cities.
The omicron variant that appeared in late 2021 drove cases to unprecedented levels in January 2022, with the state on some days reporting nearly a quarter of tests coming back positive, tens of thousands of new cases, and more than 1,600 hospitalizations.
But by the second half of the year, COVID as the single biggest threat had practically faded into memory. In June, the Minnesota Department of Health ceased publishing the daily case reports with which so many Minnesotans had become familiar.
In the last months of 2022, the virus shared the stage with the flu and RSV as a trio of illnesses taxing health care resources. State health care officials said in mid-December that COVID levels remained stubbornly steady even as flu and RSV cases appeared to dip.
The year opened with a surge in COVID-19 cases in humans, but state poultry flocks had a run-in with an infectious disease outbreak as well. Spring saw a new outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza across the U.S., including in Minnesota — the nation’s top turkey-producing state.
By mid-December, more than 4.2 million birds in 110 flocks across Minnesota had been affected by the outbreak, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The disease is caused by a highly contagious virus that is generally lethal to domesticated birds and flocks are typically killed off to prevent the spread.
The virus is of particular concern in Minnesota, as the state is the top turkey producer in the U.S. Each year, producers raise about 40 million birds. In the 2015 outbreak farmers lost millions, and nationally the federal government response cost billions of dollars.
$17.6 billion surplus
Minnesota’s historic budget surplus just keeps growing, and growing, and growing. The state budget office estimated in December that Minnesota can expect a $17.6 billion surplus in the coming budget biennium.
That’s the third record projection from that office in a year. In December 2021, the surplus had already reached a record $7.7 billion. Then, the Minnesota Management and Budget Department then issued a revised new estimate in February of $9.3 billion.
Lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz have thrown around many ideas for the surplus. Republicans have suggested the state use the surplus for ongoing tax relief. Democrats have pitched more funding for education and child care.
Walz has also pitched direct payments back to taxpayers in the form of $1,000 rebate checks for single filers and $2,000 checks for couples. Democrats in the Legislature have been lukewarm on his proposal.
Senate Republicans, House Democrats and the governor couldn’t reach an agreement on how to use much of the surplus before the end of the 2022 legislative session, so the massive current surplus includes some of the remaining funds from prior projections.
Second term for Walz
DFL Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz beat GOP challenger Scott Jensen in the 2022 Minnesota gubernatorial election.
Jensen, a Chaska family practice physician and former state senator, and running mate Matt Birk hoped to be the first Republican candidates to win the governor’s office since 2006. Most media polls published in the last two months before the election indicated Walz had a comfortable lead over Jensen.
Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have presided over an eventful first term that saw a global pandemic and widespread unrest that came with a national reckoning over race and policing following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.
On the campaign trail, the governor touted record-low unemployment, a historic $9.3 billion budget surplus and said he would seek to spend more on education and other investments in the state’s future. Walz, who served in Congress before being elected in 2018, is a former high school teacher who served in the National Guard for over two decades.
Jensen campaigned on criticizing Walz's record on COVID and 2020 unrest and attempted to blame the governor for a surge in violent crime that started in 2020 — going as far as calling Walz the “godfather” of a national crime wave that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numbers released in August from the Department of Public Safety showed crime continued to rise in 2021, though there were signs murder numbers were easing.
Still, Minnesota reported a record number for a second consecutive year in 2021 as violent crime continued to surge, a trend seen nationwide and one coinciding with the economic and social disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state reported 201 murders, an 8.5% annual increase, and a 21.6% increase in violent crime. The previous murder record was set in 2020, when Minnesota had 185 murders — a 58% increase from the 117 reported in 2019. A 17% increase in violent crime that year accompanied the jump in murders.
Before 2020, Minnesota’s highest number of murders was last reported in 1995, when Minneapolis saw a significant surge in violence tied to gangs. That year there were 183 murders. Minnesota’s population has grown by 1.1 million people since the mid-1990s.
The Twin Cities metropolitan area saw a significantly higher increase in violent crime than greater Minnesota in 2021. The seven-county metro saw a 23.9% increase in violent crime compared with 16% in the rest of the state. Minneapolis reported a near-record 96 homicides in 2021, and St. Paul saw a record 38 homicides.
Murder and other intentional killings are the two components of the “murder” count in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s annual crime report. In the criminal justice system, murder is a specific offense distinct from other homicides.
The new crime report marks the first time the state has tracked carjackings. By the end of the year, the DPS had logged 779 carjackings statewide. More than 600 happened in Minneapolis, while fewer than 10 occurred in greater Minnesota outside the seven-county metro.
Tight labor market
Whether it was a surge in gas prices or a tight labor market, economic bumps remained a theme in Minnesota and the rest of the U.S. in 2022. Minnesota continued to lead the nation in employment in 2022, reaching an all-time record low unemployment this summer of 1.8%.
Tight labor markets are nothing new since the beginning of the pandemic, but historically, states like Minnesota and North Dakota have already needed to put in extra effort to attract workers.
Mankato had the lowest unemployment in the U.S. in fall 2022, sitting at 1.3% in October, according to the most recently available numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rochester and Fargo-Moorhead sat at No. 2 with 1.4%, and the Grand Forks area sat in fourth place at 1.5%.
Minneapolis-St. Paul; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Bismarck, North Dakota, all ranked in the top 10 as well and had unemployment rates below 2%.