There are just a few days remaining in the legislative session. Work continues toward an agreement on the state budget between Governor Walz and leaders of the House and Senate. Meanwhile, House/Senate conference committees are working through differences between each body’s versions of the various budget bills. As we approach the deadline of Monday at midnight to adjourn, here’s an update on some of what we’re working on at the State Capitol.
Investments in Education
I have the honor to serve on the conference committee working on an E-12 Education Budget. No matter where they live, all Minnesota students deserve access to excellent schools. Our House DFL budget makes strong investments in the per-pupil funding formula, funds more school psychologists, counselors, and social workers, and helps close the funding gap for special education, and expands strategies like full-service community schools. The Senate’s version, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow districts to keep up with inflationary costs. For the Hibbing School District, as an example, here’s the difference in funding between the two budgets.
Just this week many districts across the state put operating levy referendums on the ballot, asking voters to contribute more through property taxes. Some were successful while many were not. This leads to terrible inequities between “have” districts and “have not” districts. Students in the Floodwood district, which narrowly rejected an operating levy referendum earlier this year, will see teachers and staff cut and their grade levels will need to be combined. We understand that educating our children isn’t inexpensive, but the investments we’re making truly address what our schools need to ensure all students have the ability to succeed and thrive.
Zip code shouldn’t be a determining factor in the level of education a student receives and I’m working to ensure our final budget reflects this value.
Protecting Health Care
Over 27 years ago, MinnesotaCare was developed by a Republican Governor and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to give low-income working Minnesotans an opportunity to access affordable health care. This program is funded through the state’s Health Care Access Fund, which also funds Medical Assistance coverage and innovations in health care delivery. The source for this fund, a two-percent tax on health care providers, is due to sunset this year. Our House DFL Health and Human Services budget repeals this sunset.
This week, Governor Walz and legislative leaders received a letter from 189 health care professionals calling for the continuation of this funding. Those offering their support included surgeons, pediatricians, psychologists, nurse practitioners and more. Unfortunately, despite this broad support from the medical community, Republicans in the Senate aren’t budging, and are content to let this funding stream disappear and haven’t put forth an alternative to replace the funding. Senate leaders have even called renewing this funding “off the table.” If this happens, care for 1.2 million Minnesotans will be in jeopardy, along with a massive hole left in the state budget. DFLers are committed to ensuring access to affordable, quality health care and are working to protect this funding.
Prescription Drug Prices
As we work to make health care more affordable, addressing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs is one way in which we can make serious progress. The role of middlemen known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) has recently received greater attention as a piece of this puzzle. PBMs develop and maintain lists of covered drugs (formularies) that they offer to pharmacies, while drug manufacturers give PBMs rebates to encourage the PBM to place their product on the formulary. They do this with no guarantee that the rebate will be passed on to consumers and these kickbacks give PBMs an incentive to remove less expensive drugs from formularies, and encourage companies to raise list prices. All of this raises the price of prescription drugs for people who depend on them.
The House and Senate have approved HF 728 which will regulate and require transparency for PBMs. Currently, PBMs operate with no oversight, so they are allowed to switch drugs whenever they can get a higher rebate – sometimes several times a year – which means doctors have to change patients’ prescriptions to medications that are more expensive, and often less effective. This legislation would help make sure Minnesotans can afford the medications they need to survive. Bipartisan compromise has been reached, and I expect Gov. Walz to sign the bill into law soon.
Care for Our Elders
Minnesota is the only state in the nation that doesn’t license assisted living facilities. Too many seniors and vulnerable adults have experienced abuse, theft, assault, neglect, and other reprehensible actions with little accountability. Last year, AARP Minnesota convened an Elder Abuse Consumer Workgroup to solve these problems in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
Last week, the House approved HF 90, a package of strong, consumer-centered reforms protecting seniors and vulnerable adults. In addition to requiring licensure of assisted living facilities, the bill allows residents to have a camera in their living space, includes a prohibition on deceptive marketing practices, and clarifies of the rights of residents and their families when abuse or maltreatment occurs. While receiving the care they need, all Minnesota seniors deserve to live with dignity in safe environments, and this bill will help ensure they can.
As work continues on the budget, I hope you’ll keep in touch about what’s important to you and your family. I also hope you’ll follow along with the activities at the Capitol. Minnesota House Public Information Services is a nonpartisan office that offers many valuable resources including livestreaming of floor sessions and committee meetings, a YouTube channel, Session Daily – a recap of Capitol activity every day delivered via email, and Facebook and Twitter accounts with timely information.
Please continue to contact me with your ideas, input, or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you.
Legislative Assistant: Josh Kilgard, 651-296-3918