Hello from the State Capitol,
It was another busy week in St. Paul, with lots of committee meetings hearing bills and voting for some bills on the floor as well. In addition, it was so nice to see the sunshine (from my office window anyway!) and watch that snow melt. Spring has sprung!
HANDSFREE CELLPHONE LEGISLATION UPDATE
This week, the legislation I’m co-authoring that would require hands-free cell phone use for drivers, was voted on and approved by the Minnesota House of Representatives. The bill would allow voice activated cell phone use only (including voice activated texting), along with one-touch or headsets.
During the House floor debate, I offered an amendment that would have put a five-year sunset on this legislation. This sunset would have created a hard stop on the law, at which time the legislature would take a look at the effectiveness of the statute and determine if it was serving its purpose in reducing cellphone-caused traffic crashes or deaths. If the law was working, the legislature could re-up it. If not, let it pass away and look for other solutions. I think having the legislature circle back and take a look at the effectiveness or need for laws we create is generally a good idea. It would help reduce the number of unnecessary or ineffective laws we have on the books. Unfortunately, my motion was defeated.
It was a pleasure to meet Greg Tikalsky and his family, who sat in the gallery while we debated the hands-free cellphone driving bill.
Greg is the brother of my friend Mary Jo Dorman, a fellow teacher and resident of Albert Lea. Greg and Mary Jo’s father was tragically killed while on the side of the road by his mailbox - struck by a driver who was texting.
I am not one who takes adding new regulations lightly, but there are times when we have to say enough is enough. Far too many people have had their lives greatly impacted, and far too many have been killed, because of texting and driving. I believe this is just the right thing to do. Now, on to the Senate!
It was so nice to chat with Michael Copley of Albert Lea recently. Michael came to the Capitol to advocate for suicide prevention policies. Sadly, Michael lost his father, as well as a good friend, to suicide. Thank you to Michael for taking the time to come talk to legislators about this very important and serious subject!
BILL ADDRESSING OPIOID ADDICTION APPROVED IN HOUSE
Sometimes, as a legislator, I have to take very difficult and sometimes heart wrenching votes, especially when I have to vote against an issue that I actually support. House File 400, which is the House opioid omnibus bill, was debated and voted on recently. As with all omnibus bills, this is composed of many smaller bills wrapped up in one large bill.
One of my important legislative jobs is to examine these omnibus bills and sift through the good and the bad in the bill. I then make a decision on whether the impact on our area and state will be a good one or harmful one.
I actually support much of what is in this opioid omnibus bill, which was crafted with the intention to help combat the opioid epidemic. This epidemic is very real and hurting many people, and we need to do something to attempt to curb the problem. There are many good provisions in the bill that I support. However, the funding source in the bill is extremely concerning to me. It raises $20 million per year with new and hefty fees on opioid manufacturers and wholesalers that do business in Minnesota.
Now, one might say “make the drug companies pay” because, after all, the products are coming from them. However, it is important to dig down and ask ourselves who will ultimately pay for these new huge fees. Unfortunately, that $20 million per year will be passed down to the consumers – those patients who desperately need these drugs. Many of these people are seniors on fixed incomes. Many others are cancer patients like my friend from Albert Lea who shared with me his concerns that these huge fees will significantly increase the cost and availability of his necessary medications – and he can’t afford that, nor can he afford to go without those prescriptions.
Not only will these fee hikes impact the price of necessary opioid products, but could also very well affect the availability of these drugs, which would increase the costs even more for seniors and people who, like my friend, are fighting cancer or other debilitating diseases. I cannot, in good conscience, do something that I know will harm these people.
There is a way to solve this problem. We could fund these programs though the general fund instead of these hefty drug fees. This would not only solve this problem, but would also get these programs underway faster, as the current funding source for this bill won’t start for at least 18 months. The general fund funding option was offered as an amendment last evening, but was unfortunately not accepted by the bill author and blocked.
So, I voted no on this bill – and it was one of the hardest votes I’ve taken to date. I know how debilitating this opioid epidemic is and how important it is that we attempt to do something about it. However, in a time when healthcare costs have skyrocketed, I cannot in good conscience increase healthcare costs on people – especially knowing that those people are the very ones who are already going though huge, life-impacting health issues and cannot afford the additional weight of higher prescription costs laid upon them.
I also made this vote knowing that this bill will be going to conference committee with the Senate and will be coming back to the House floor where I will have another opportunity to vote on it. I hope with all my heart that it comes back in better shape so that it will not hurt some of our most vulnerable neighbors. I really want to vote yes.
Have a good weekend,