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Minnesota Legislature

Legislative News and Views - Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL)

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Legislative Update: Mental health supports and Sunday sales (February 24, 2017)

Friday, February 24, 2017


It’s been a fun, busy week.  The pace of visits by area residents have picked up and every day I meet with a wide range of individuals and groups interested in the legislation before us. I so enjoy having neighbors come visit in St. Paul. But whether you visit, write, email or call, your input is much appreciated. 

As the pace quickens, I’ve been in more late evening meetings, interviewed by more members of the press, and working hard with those impacted as final proposals are ironed out.  The release of the final budget forecast this week will trigger even more intense budget work. 

President’s Day Capitol Tour Popular & featured on TV

We had the biggest group yet – two complete tours with over 70 people signed up.  For a glimpse of the tour and some of your neighbors, TPT Almanac at the Capitol sent along videographer Scott Trotman and featured it on the Wednesday night show.  You can view it here: (the segment begins at 34:55). If you didn’t get to come because we were full, I’ll be doing it again next year on President’s Day.

Improving mental health supports is a bipartisan priority

This week we heard several bills to improve our mental health supports so people get appropriate care both in a crisis and when issues are just developing with children and adolescents.  One would improve the statewide awareness and outreach of suicide prevention and crisis intervention services through services like Text4Life.  We also heard about impressive positive outcomes in school based mental health care when clinicians are at school and help children with intense needs.  There’s bipartisan agreement in support of these prevention programs.  Just as with adults, one in five children will have a mental health challenge at some point and need help adjusting to issues at home or school. 

Sunday sales of alcohol passes the House

After over a decade of defeats this was a major change.  I’m a co-author on the bill and heard from many area residents and one business that supports this purchasing flexibility.  Sunday sales of growlers introduced many to the quality craft brews of our taprooms and I’ve not received any complaints on that.  It will provide one more day for shopping local and supporting our independent businesses. 

Our home and long term care system is in need of serious reinvestment

During committee, I voiced support for the budget request for additional staff to follow up on reports on possible neglect, maltreatment, or errors in care both in long term care settings (nursing homes, group homes, assisted living) and in-home care.  The reports are up dramatically and only a fraction are investigated in a timely manner.  I support the additional staff Gov. Dayton has asked for to remedy this.  Here’s recent press on the issue:

One cause of the increasing problems is staff shortages.  The people who do the most direct, person-to-person care are often paid the least:  $11-$12 an hour when retail and other less demanding work pays more.  We need to increase our rates to reflect the workplace reality if we want good people to step up and stay in this work.  Vacancies lead to double shifts, excessive overtime, and errors by over-tired staff. 

This week I was successful in amending out a proposal from a provider group to change, from 60 days to 90 days, the time period in which a new staff person must be fully trained on all their responsibilities.  From my perspective, 60 days is too long and we need to see appropriate training and supervision as a key component of prevention. 

Real ID 

As a security measure, the U.S. government required states to develop changes in the documentation accompanying driver’s licenses and to submit certain information to the federal government.  Minnesota resisted implementation (along with other states) over concerns about an unfunded mandate and the federal government directing changes in an area of law historically under state control; some feared the creation of a federal database of all residents that could be used for various purposes. 

Now we are at the end of the line and if we don’t offer a Real ID driver’s license, residents won’t be able to board airplanes or visit military bases or other federal buildings without a passport starting in 2018.  The Minnesota solution has been a two-tiered license where each person could decide whether they want a Real ID or a traditional MN driver’s license or state ID.  Most agree we need to act on this so those who fly can avoid having to get a passport.

Using their favored divisive strategy, the Republican majority has delayed action until deadlines approach before tying a program with bipartisan support to an area of great controversy.  They did this with health care by tying premium relief to allowing for-profit insurance companies into the state for the first time and other unvetted policy changes just five days before the enrollment deadline.  For this bill they tied in legal prohibitions on driver’s licenses for immigrants (already forbidden in rule). 

A variety of states allow immigrants to get special drivers licenses to improve road safety.  I’m told it’s working out well there. They must receive training, pass a test, and secure insurance. Without a license one can’t get auto insurance. At a recent listening session in our area, quite a few people recounted problems with a fender bender - or worse - involving an uninsured driver.   The topic deserves its own hearings and action.

I voted against the bill because it linked an immigrant issue to a needed step forward on Real ID.  The Senate bill sticks to just Real ID and I hope we can quickly agree to that approach in conference committee and begin implementation so we’re ready with Real ID before the federal deadline. 

The unexpected death of a cousin last week has renewed my quest to savor each day and count my blessings.  The weather of last weekend brought out a record 70-80 people for the We Love Our Presidential Streets Walk and it was fun having a serious taste of spring fever.  Dodging this weekend’s predicted storm was also a fun surprise. Hope many delightful surprises await you in the week ahead.