State lawmakers have departed Saint Paul for a one-week legislative recess, which signals the halfway point of the 2018 legislative session.
This time of year also signals the passing of key deadlines for bills to advance in the legislative process. Minnesota law directs the Legislature to “establish by concurrent resolution deadlines for each regular session,” which help to narrow down the hundreds of bills introduced by lawmakers to proposals that have the best chance of becoming law.
Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate, so they decide whether or not bills receive a public hearing and advance in the legislative process. I am disappointed that we have not yet held hearings on urgent issues such as bonding projects and the consumer recommendations on preventing elder abuse. In addition, the proposed new funding to address the opioid crisis is not yet moving forward in the legislative process. Minnesotans expect their elected officials to work together and address big challenges.
While there is much work yet to do, I am pleased that the Senate unanimously approved a long-stalled contract for our outstanding state employees. As a result, more than 30,000 state employees will receive their negotiated compensation package. We also took an important step to shore up our state’s troubled pension fund. I want to thank Republican Senator Julie Rosen and DFL Senator Sandy Pappas for their leadership on this issue. It’s important that the state keep its commitments to police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other retirees.
Here is a closer look at what I’ve been working on at the State Capitol this year.
Preventing elder abuse
I recently participated in a news conference alongside families, Governor Mark Dayton, Republican Senator Michelle Fischbach, AARP Minnesota Director Will Phillips, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, and Acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson to announce a new bipartisan proposal (Senate File 3088) to protect seniors and vulnerable adults. As the Ranking Member of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, I am the chief author of the bill.
The health and safety of Minnesota seniors is first and foremost the responsibility of the facilities where they are cared for. At the same time, state government has an important role to play in ensuring strong standards and protections for our vulnerable adults. These new proposals will strengthen the rights of seniors and their families, provide resources to protect against abuse, and make penalties harsher for bad actors.
Providing affordable health care choices
I am joining leaders from rural Minnesota in urging state lawmakers to create a “MinnesotaCare Buy-In” option, which would allow all Minnesotans the choice to purchase their health insurance through MinnesotaCare – a state program that for 26 years has provided eligible working Minnesota families a more affordable choice to purchase their health care.
The need for MinnesotaCare Buy-In was underscored by recently released data showing that Minnesota’s uninsured rate increased by 46 percent last year alone, due in part to rising insurance costs, leaving approximately 349,000 Minnesotans without coverage in 2017. The proposal would bring needed stability to the individual insurance market and ensure that people who buy their own insurance – farmers, small business owners, entrepreneurs – have at least one option for affordable, compressive coverage.
Creating a MinnesotaCare Buy-In would reduce costs and improve access for an estimated 100,000 more Minnesotans who purchase their own health insurance on the individual market. Unlike traditional MinnesotaCare enrollees who receive subsidized coverage, individuals who choose MinnesotaCare Buy-In would pay their own way – meaning the cost of their premiums would pay for their coverage.
Making pre-Kindergarten funding permanent
I recently announced my support to make permanent a previous one-time appropriation for voluntary pre-Kindergarten. If the Legislature takes no action, significant funding for the Hinckley-Finlayson and East Central school districts will run out. Investing in our littlest Minnesotans is the best investment we make collectively as a society and I am proud lend my support to this important cause.
This column was first published in the Pine City Pioneer.