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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Ben Lien (DFL)

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Legislative Update - March 13, 2020

Friday, March 13, 2020

Rep. Lien

Greetings from the Floor,

 

We passed two bills off the House floor this week.  They were SF3813 and SF3564.  SF3813 has been signed into law by the governor and will appropriate $20.9 million to the public health contingency account to prepare for an outbreak of COVID-19.  The bill mandates that any money in excess of $5 million left over next February will return to the General Fund.  This is not to say that people think the coronavirus pandemic will last that long, but it is important to prepare as much as possible for all circumstances.  This money will remain available should the virus come back next fall while the Legislature is not in session.  About half of these dollars will go for Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) staffing, $1.7 million will be used for laboratory needs, $9.3 million for local public health agencies and coalitions, and $4.25 million will be used for personal protective equipment for MDH staff to monitor patients and facilities. 

 

SF3564 would appropriate $30 million to the Disaster Contingency Account.  This bill is not a part of preparedness for COVID-19.  The account was created, and policy put into law, for the governor to declare an emergency and tap the account in response to natural disasters while the Legislature is not in session.  Last year, $30 million was put into the account.  The state’s Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM) is currently projecting a deficit of $2.7 million for the account.  Both bills passed with strong bi-partisan support.

 

Gov. Walz presented his supplemental budget proposal yesterday.  Despite the state having a $1.5 billion surplus, the governor was very careful in crafting a budget that will meet immediate demands and keep the Minnesota’s financial standing strong.  He began by putting $491.3 million into the state’s budget reserve.  The remainder of Gov. Walz’s budget totals $256.9 million, and focuses on the following:

  • E-12 mental health wellness
  • Back-filling SNAP dollars as a response to people losing benefits because of federal government action
  • Reimbursement to tribes and counties because of the Department of Human Services overpayments
  • Disaster Contingency Account appropriations (as described above)
  • Sexual assault test kits and community violence prevention grants
  • Chronic Wasting Disease and Aquatic Invasive Species prevention
  • Farm safety
  • Veteran supports (housing and suicide prevention)
  • Election security through the Secretary of State’s office

The governor left $1.2 billion on the bottom line through his budget, and this number shrinks to $1.1 billion in the next biennium.  For more information on Gov. Waz’s budget, please go to: https://mn.gov/mmb/budget/current-budget/governors-budget-recommendations/.

 

As the coronavirus and COVID-19 continue to spread throughout the world and U.S., Gov. Walz and his administration consider the issue to be the highest priority.  Minnesota has an exceptional public health system with coordination between the state and local governments, and hospitals and clinics.  Although Minnesota has now seen 9 cases of the illness (all related to travel outside of the state), we are not currently experiencing any community spreading.  People who are infected have been identified, and are being treated and isolated. 

The best thing people can do right now is practice personal hygiene with the utmost care and consider your personal level of risk.  Some folks may decide to self-quarantine without any signs of illness.  I think this is perfectly understandable for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.  Wash your hands thoroughly several times a day (after contact with others and before eating), avoid touching your face, cover sneezes and coughs with your sleeves, stay home when you are sick (and stock up on supplies), keep a distance from others, and heed the warnings and advice of health organizations.  Coronavirus and COVID-19 are far more severe than a bad cold or flu.  However, we don’t have to panic. 

The actions being taken to cancel large public events and in-person classes are to prevent the spread of this virus.  It’s important to stay up to date on what we all need to do so that these illnesses don’t become more widespread.  Please pay attention to these developments as they are happening quickly.  For more information, please go to: http://www.health.state.mn.us.  A hotline number has also been setup and will be open from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm daily (651-201-3920).

 

Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,

Ben

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