I hope you’re having a good Sunday. I’m down here at the Capitol as work continues on a state budget agreement. The deadline for adjournment of the regular session is tomorrow at midnight and I remain hopeful we can reach a timely resolution that invests in the things Minnesotans value, such as schools, health care, roads and bridges, and public safety.
Today, Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown provided the opening invocation for today’s floor session. Rep. Murphy read some passages of the children’s book “the Old Turtle,” and I hope we can take seriously some of these lessons about listening to one another and developing a mutual understanding in these final hours of session.
As big picture budget talks take place, House/Senate conference committees are still plugging away at some of the policy provisions, but still need a budget outline to finish their work. We have a responsibility to get a compromise done and I'll do whatever I can to be part of that solution.
With all of the end-of-session activity going on, some groups of students have picked an interesting time to visit the State Capitol. Sen. Bakk and I recently had the opportunity to welcome sixth graders from North Woods and Nett Lake.
This past week, sixth graders from International Falls made the trip down.
Restorative Justice for Veterans
I am proud to be the chief author of a bill to expand our Veterans Courts model and establish new sentencing recommendations for those veterans who have experienced PTSD or other service-related disorders. For lower level offenses, it makes more sense to give the opportunity for treatment for substance abuse or mental health problems rather than jail or prison. When they return home, our veterans experience a variety of challenges and we need to make every effort to address our veterans' needs.
The measure was included in our House State Government Finance and Military Affairs budget, and I’m working hard to have it included in the final version. I had the opportunity to talk to KSTP TV in the Twin Cities about the legislation, and you can watch the story here.
Lowering Prescription Drug Prices
Minnesotans are experiencing the soaring cost of prescription medications. One little known player in drug pricing is an industry known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). PBMs currently operate with very little transparency and no oversight.
These middlemen develop and maintain lists of covered drugs (formularies) that they offer to pharmacies. Drug makers then give PBMs rebates to encourage the PBM to place their products on the formulary. This is a clear conflict of interest, and these kickbacks give PBMs an incentive to remove less expensive drugs from formularies, and encourage companies to raise list prices. As a result, people pay more.
Under a bipartisan bill approved by the House and Senate, the state Dept. of Commerce would have licensing authority of PBMs and require them to notify health carriers whenever an activity presents a conflict of interest, and to look out for the financial interests of their customers by seeking out deals that provide the lowest price. I expect Gov. Walz to sign this bill into law soon.
Protecting Seniors and Vulnerable Adults
The Star Tribune published a series of stories in 2017 highlighting reprehensible behavior in Minnesota’s senior care facilities. Shortly thereafter, AARP Minnesota convened a workgroup to develop solutions to stop assaults, theft, abuse, and other maltreatment of our seniors and vulnerable adults in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. One problem quickly identified was that Minnesota is the only state in the country that doesn’t require assisted living facilities to be licensed.
Last week, the House approved HF 90, a package of strong safeguards to allow seniors and vulnerable adults deserve to live with dignity and in safe environments. In addition to licensure of assisted living facilities, the bill allows residents to have a camera in their living space, bans deceptive marketing practices, and clarifies what rights residents and family members have when abuse or maltreatment occurs.
A consensus has been reached between senior advocates and industry representatives for these reforms and I’m hopeful the Senate will take action on the measure soon.
Please continue to contact me with your feedback, input, and if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to be your voice in Saint Paul.
Rep. Rob Ecklund
409 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155
Chair, House Veterans and Military Affairs Policy and Finance Division
Legislative Assistant: Josh Kilgard, 651-296-3918