Omnibus HHS Policy Bill
Despite stalled negotiations on the HHS omnibus budget bill, the conference committee put together a sweeping policy package that passed in the final minutes of the regular Legislative session. Most of the policy in this bill received bipartisan support throughout the legislative session. Additionally, one change DFLers have fought for over the past few years finally crossed the finish line. This bill increases the number of families eligible for food assistance from the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) by expanding the income eligibility from 165% to 200% of the federal poverty line. This change was blocked by Senate Republicans last year despite having no cost to the state budget and will allow nearly 1,500 additional families to access needed food benefits, paid for entirely by federal funds.
Other policy highlights include:
- New inpatient mental health beds: This bill authorizes Children’s Minnesota to add 22 new pediatric inpatient behavioral health services beds as part of their new, family-friendly inpatient psychiatric unit opening later this year. These beds are coming at a critical time as the current shortage of inpatient mental health beds leaves kids waiting days or even weeks for appropriate treatment.
- Homeless youth facility improvement: This bill reallocates $1,000,000 from an existing, unused appropriation for grants to homeless youth providers that can be used for facility repairs or improvements.
- Addiction and recovery support: This bill codifies Governor Walz’s recent executive order establishing an Opioids, Substance Use, and Addiction Subcabinet and Advisory Council. When drug overdose deaths are at record highs across the country, this interagency subcabinet will help the state identify and address treatment and recovery solutions to help fight addiction and save lives.
- Anti-discrimination in organ transplants: This prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity in access to organ transplants. This builds on the Legislature’s work last year to prohibit discrimination based on disability and promote equity, transparency, and efficiency in organ donation and transplantation.
- Industrial hemp regulation: This bill establishes requirements for products containing cannabinoids extracted from hemp, including limiting the amount of THC these products may contain, prohibiting products containing cannabinoids from being sold to persons under 21, establishing requirements for edible cannabinoid products, and exempting cannabinoids derived from hemp from the state’s Schedule I drug class.
- Opioid prescribing changes: Past efforts at the state and federal level to reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing have led to severe unintended consequences for patients dealing with chronic and intractable pain. A broad coalition of stakeholders put together the language in the bill that adjusts the state’s opioid prescribing guidelines so physicians can use patient-centered practices when treating patients with intractable pain.
- Out-of-home payment change: Current state and federal law require parents and custodians to pay for out-of-home placement costs. These fees are almost exclusively charged to the poorest families and cause children to spend added time in foster care, as this debt follows the families for years and makes it harder to climb out of poverty. This bill removes this requirement in state law and adds new factors that courts must consider in determining what’s best for the child. (HF 4605)
Mental Health and Competency Restoration Bill
A bill spending $92 million on mental health and competency restoration reform passed the Legislature in the regular session. This funding comes when Minnesotans are struggling with increased mental health needs and dwindling access to services.
Mental health package: This bill dedicates $60 million towards critical mental health resources to bolster the professional workforce and make sure Minnesotans can access the supports they need. This increases funding for school-based mental health, shelter-linked mental health, mobile crisis response units, and adult mental health grants for Minnesotans who need mental health support.
The bill also creates a new pilot program for youth mental health urgency rooms, which would be a space kids in mental health crises can go for assessment and referral instead of waiting in chaotic emergency rooms. To address workforce shortages, this bill will increase loan forgiveness funding for mental health professionals and provide grants to make sure individuals working towards licensure do not have to pay for their clinical supervision.
Competency restoration: A significant portion of this bill addresses a significant gap in the criminal justice and mental health system dealing with competency restoration. This bill was stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee this session despite board stakeholder support, but advocates and lead authors in the House worked to push this important public safety bill over the finish line.
People who have been charged with crimes cannot be tried if a judge determines they are, due to mental illness or cognitive impairment, incapable of understanding the proceedings or participating in their defense. This means that the prosecution of the criminal charges must wait until the person becomes competent or the charges are dismissed. There are no laws in Minnesota requiring a state agency or local unit of government to provide treatment for competency restoration outside of civil commitment, and many times individuals who don’t reach the threshold for commitment are left on their own and enter a revolving door of interactions with law enforcement without getting the mental health treatment they need.
This bill is a first step to addressing this gap by creating a new competency restoration program to increase oversight and link individuals to needed services. This will be done in part by ‘forensic navigators,’ who help guide defendants that are incompetent to face charges through the legal process and ensure they can access appropriate services. (HF 2725)
Opioid Settlement Bill
Minnesotans have suffered tremendously from the ongoing opioid epidemic, with overdose deaths increasing dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic. Minnesota is expected to receive around $300 million over the next 18 years from a national opioid settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three major opioid distributors related to their role in the opioid crisis.
A bill passed this session reflects an agreement between the state, local governments, and Office of the Attorney General to collect and dispense these funds. Cities and counties will receive 75% of settlement funds, the remaining 25% will go to the state. This money will never make up for the thousands of Minnesotan lives lost due to opioids, but it will help local governments across the state combat this ongoing crisis through increased prevention, treatment, and recovery services. (SF 4025)
Ombudsperson for Foster Youth
A bill to create a new Office of the Foster Youth Ombudsperson passed during the regular session. A Board of the Foster Youth Ombudsperson will also be established to oversee this work, and the Board will be comprised partly of youth and adults with experience in the foster care system.
While the overall number of children in foster care is declining, there are still significant disparities in the number of children of color and Native children facing out-of-home placement. There is no formal entity that tracks complaints about families or youth in foster care, and few resources are available for youth mistreated by the state’s child protective systems.
This new Office would help investigate concerns about the health, safety, or welfare of a young person in foster care, connect individuals and families to resources, and identify where more interventions are needed in the state’s child welfare system. (SF 3845)
DID NOT PASS
HHS Omnibus Budget Bill
Legislators did not reach an agreement on $1 billion in spending for health and human services by the end of the regular session. The Senate position focused on spending on disability services and long-term care providers, hoping to improve the workforce shortages that have left providers overworked and individuals without the care they need. The House omnibus position was much broader and spent about $2.5 billion over three years to tackle needs in healthcare, long-term care, childcare, homelessness services, child welfare, and workforce supports such as the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act. (SF 4410)
Reproductive Healthcare Protections
As the Supreme Court stands ready to dramatically weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade, Senate DFLers made an urgent push on the floor to bring bills forward that would protect Minnesotan’s rights to all reproductive healthcare decisions and increase support for women and families.
The Republican Senate Majority continually introduces legislation that would limit access to safe, timely abortions and refuses to hold hearings on meaningful bills that would support pregnant women and families. Senate Republicans rejected each of the following bills on the floor, but DFLers will not stop fighting to protect these fundamental rights.
- The Protect Reproductive Options Act would codify an individual’s right to make private, individual decisions about reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion, and pregnancy. (SF 731)
- The Patient’s Right to Know Act would allow health care providers to give patients health information that is medically accurate, evidence-based, and appropriate for the patient before administering an abortion. (SF 963)
- The Protect Access to Contraception Act, would require health plans to cover contraceptive methods and services for 12 months with no cost-sharing requirements. (SF 1884)
- A bill to increase funding for family planning and reproductive health clinics. (SF 644)
- A bill to establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave program for Minnesotans. (SF 1205)
- A bill to require hospitals and health providers to allow pregnant patients to have a designated support person accompany them at any healthcare visit. (SF 3959)
- A bill to allow the Minnesota Department of Health to study health problems related to pregnancy and childbirth. (SF 3026)
- A bill to expand Minnesota’s family home visiting program to serve thousands more families with children under five years old. (SF 3766)
- A bill to allow a victim of “stealthing” – the removal of a condom during intercourse without permission – to seek civil action against the perpetrator. (SF 3780)
Conversion Therapy Ban
An effort led by DFLers to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth failed on the Senate floor this year after being blocked by Senate Republicans. Even though the motion received a majority of the votes in the Senate, it did not receive enough to move the bill onto the Senate floor after sitting in committee for two years without a hearing. Conversion therapy, which is an intervention that means to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is a harmful, discredited practice that has been equated with torture by the United Nations. Despite Republican obstruction, DFLers will continue to fight to protect LGBTQ youth in Minnesota from this dangerous practice. (SF 1871)