Before we dive into this week’s legislative news, I want to congratulate the Fergus Falls girls basketball team on a great season and for making it to this week’s state tournament.
Things remain busy at the Capitol as the end of this week brings us to the first House deadline for bills to make preliminary committee process. A bill of mine (H.F. 848) that would complete a section of trail between Perham to Pelican Rapids received a positive hearing this week. Thank you to Otter Tail County officials Rick West, Nick Leonard and Doug Huebsch for testifying on behalf of the bill and helping move it to the next stage of the committee process. There is a $2.899 million local match to the $4.768 million state bonding request.
In other news, the high cost of health insurance has been a major subject of discussion in recent months and House Democrats dropped the ball on an opportunity to make improvements this week. The Senate passed a bill to extend Minnesota’s reinsurance program for three years, which Minnesota Management & Budget confirms would reduce premiums in the individual market in plan years 2020-2022 but, unfortunately, House Democrats blocked efforts by House Republicans to bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote.
Meanwhile, the House version of the bill remains stalled in the committee process and Gov. Walz has proposed a misguided plan that actually would cost the state more than extending reinsurance, help only half of the individual market (those who don't receive federal tax credits), and do nothing to ensure that premiums will not soar once again if reinsurance is not extended.
As for action on the House floor this week, we passed a bill without opposition to designate the first Saturday in October as Veterans Suicide Awareness Day. Reports indicate that veterans are 1 1/2 times more likely to die by suicide than civilians. That translates to more than 6,100 suicides per year, which is very concerning. I hope this bill is enacted soon so we can create more public awareness on this issue and take steps so that veterans can receive the help they need.
On a final note, the Office of the Legislative Auditor issued a report this week regarding an investigation it conducted into fraud that is suspected in the Minnesota Child Care Assistance Program.
The upshot is there is widespread agreement that a substantial amount of fraud is taking place in CCAP and it is clear the Department of Human Services has been lax in its monitoring of this program. The agency – and all of our agencies, for that matter – need to take steps to protect from waste, fraud and abuse of our tax dollars. Legislators also need to take action to make improvements and House Republicans conducted a press conference to talk about plans that are being developed. I will circle back with those details as progress is made.
Until next time, please be safe as we receive another blast of winter this week and also remember to keep our fire hydrants clear of snow so they are accessible in case of emergency.