Minnesota U.S Rep. Tim Walz, a DFL candidate for governor this year, said Tuesday he’s backing an assault-weapons ban in Minnesota and other “common sense solutions” to stop gun violence.

Walz has touted his support from the NRA in prior campaigns, donning a camouflaged NRA hat while running in a southern Minnesota district filled with rural towns.

But the mass shooting at a Florida high school last week by a young gunman with an AR-15 assault rifle laid bare what has been a simmering divide as DFL candidates combined their condolences with calls to action.

On Tuesday, Walz posted a statement saying that after hearing the “anger, grief and frustration” of people across Minnesota over gun violence, “I get it.”

When asked if his change in position is because of heat he’s taking during the contest for the DFL endorsement for governor, Walz said he’s always learning.

“As a legislator I’ve always been proud to say if the facts dispute our ideology, we change the ideology. And I have done that on numerous issues and this is one that I think I’m moving where the country is moving.”

He reiterated that he’s donated contributions to him from the NRA and won’t take any in the future.

“All Minnesotans want solutions to ending gun violence and they want them now,” he said. “They’ve had it and I’ve had it with the years of obstruction and inaction.”

He vowed to build new coalitions to “finally end the obstruction, get the NRA out of the way and get us to the common-sense solutions that we all agree on, “including universal background checks, a bump-stock ban and “and yes, after listening hard to Minnesotans, an assault-weapons ban in Minnesota.”

One of his opponents in the race for the DFL endorsement said Minnesotans will have to decide whether Walz is changing his position for political gain.

“I mean it is an election year. He’s running for a very different position,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. “I frankly think he was always wrong in his support of the gun lobby.”

Good morning, and welcome to the day after President’s Day which is commonly known as Tuesday and happens to be the first day of the 2018 Minnesota legislative session. Let’s get right to the Digest.

1) All eyes on the Senate president. In her day job, Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach presides over debate and represents a crucial vote in the Minnesota Senate. In her other day job, she’s the state’s new lieutenant governor and would ascend to the top job if anything happened to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

The combination has created tension as the Legislature returns Tuesday for its 2018 session. Republicans, clinging to a one-seat majority, are on guard for Democratic attempts to force Fischbach out and throw the Senate into an unprecedented tie.  Fischbach has already survived one legal challenge on the grounds a constituent’s lawsuit was both premature and lacked a qualified plaintiff. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, hinted more legal wrangling is ahead.

“When she casts that first vote,” Bakk said last week, “I think that raises the question of: Is that vote constitutional?” Minnesota’s Constitution says it’s up to each legislative chamber to judge the eligibility of its own members. (MPR News)

2) Republicans back away from a “penny-a-pill” to prevent opioid overdoses. During an appearance Monday on MPR News, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he expects to pass a major bill this session to fight opioid abuse. Last week, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed an opioid measure that would rely on a penny-a-pill fee from drug companies to fund prevention and treatment. Daudt said that might not be the way to go.

“I’m not sure if it will pass exactly in that form, but we’re going to take some big steps this year to curb the opioid addiction problem,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, also wants to put more money toward fighting opioid abuse, but he too has reservations about the proposed fee.

Gazelka said drug companies already pay a lot in taxes. “I wasn’t aware until recently that the pharmaceuticals right now give about $250 million a year that just simply goes into Minnesota’s general fund,” he said. “So, at the very minimum, I would try to carve out some of that.” Democrats want to back an opioid bill this session. House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the effort should be bipartisan.

But she doesn’t see a problem with charging a fee. “These drug companies are making a tremendous amount of money off of the fact that people are addicted, and they’re selling a large quantity of opioid,” she said. “So I think it’s fair that they would be part of the solution on the funding side.” (MPR News)

3) A cop in every school?  The Minnesota Senate’s top Republican said Monday that the state should consider paying for a police presence in every public school. On MPR yesterday Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that enhanced school security should be part of the debate after last week’s mass shooting in Florida that left 17 dead.

He raised the idea when asked whether Minnesota lawmakers would revisit bills to restrict firearms. “I’d be open to funding for making sure every public school has a police officer present, depending on the size of the school maybe they need more — or at least at a minimum somebody would conceal carry, which mean you would have people available to stop something like that,” said Gazelka, R-Nisswa.

It would be a tall order. There are more than 2,400 school buildings across the state, many in small towns. (MPR News)

4) Progress reported on elder abuse complaints. Under pressure from legislators and families of elder abuse victims, state health officials have made dramatic gains in reducing a huge backlog of unresolved complaints of maltreatment in Minnesota senior care facilities.

The Minnesota Department of Health has cut the tally of unresolved maltreatment allegations by nearly 80 percent, from 3,147 to 712, in the last six weeks. The remaining backlog includes reports of maltreatment in senior care homes that have never been reviewed by state officials, as well as investigations that are still ongoing, the agency disclosed in a report Monday.

The rapid gains reflect a broader effort by the Health Department to improve its handling of the more than 20,000 allegations of maltreatment it receives each year. The allegations range from neglect to financial exploitation to violent incidents of physical and sexual abuse. (Star Tribune)

5) Minnesota case headed to Supreme Court next week.  A “Make America Great Again” hat. A tea party T-shirt. A MoveOn.org button. Wear any one of those items to vote in Minnesota, and a poll worker will likely ask you to remove it or cover it up.

Like a number of states, Minnesota bars voters from wearing political items to the polls to reduce the potential for confrontations or voter intimidation. But that could change. The Supreme Court on Feb. 28 will consider a challenge to the state’s law, in a case that could affect other states, too.

Wen Fa, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, the group behind the challenge to Minnesota’s law, says voters wearing political apparel shouldn’t have to hang up their hats, turn their T-shirts inside out or put their buttons in their bags just to cast a ballot.

Wearing political clothing is “a passive way to express core political values,” said Fa, who said the case is “about the free speech rights of all Americans.” Minnesota sees it differently. In court papers, it says the law is a “reasonable restriction” that preserves “order and decorum in the polling place” and prevents “voter confusion and intimidation.” (AP)

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, left, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt speak at a January 2017 Capitol news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

The Minnesota Senate’s top Republican said Monday that the state should consider paying for a police presence in every public school.

Appearing on an MPR News show the day before the new legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that enhanced school security should be part of the debate after last week’s mass shooting in Florida that left 17 dead. He raised the idea when asked whether Minnesota lawmakers would revisit bills to restrict firearms.

“I’d be open to funding for making sure every public school has a police officer present, depending on the size of the school maybe they need more — or at least at a minimum somebody would conceal carry, which mean you would have people available to stop something like that,” said Gazelka, R-Nisswa.

It would be a tall order. There are more than 2,400 school buildings across the state, many in small towns.

Gazelka said that he doesn’t believe banning certain weapons is the answer to dealing with gun violence in school buildings and other public settings.

Gun control groups want new restrictions on the sales of AR-15 rifles and similar guns that have been used in several high-profile shooting sprees in recent years.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said that’s unlikely to succeed.

“I know it feels good and feels easy to say we’re just going to ban these weapons,” Daudt said. “But the reality is there are so many weapons out there already. The AR-15 is certainly one that’s used commonly in these sorts of situations, but that’s just because it’s popular. It’s probably the most popular hunting gun as well. There are just so many of them sold.”

Reflecting on the Florida high school shooting, Daudt added, “I haven’t heard yet of a gun bill that we could pass that would have prevented this from happening.”

Protect Minnesota, which has worked to head off legislation that would expand gun rights, plans to rally Thursday at the Capitol “for sensible gun laws.”