Before we get down to legislative business, I want to send a big shout-out to local athlete “Monster” Mike Schultz for recently winning the World Para Snowboard Championships in Finland. Monster Mike earned a gold medal in banked slalom and won a bronze in boardercross. These are just the latest accomplishments for this impressive competitor, public speaker and innovator of prosthetic equipment. You are a true inspiration and we are all proud of you back here at home, Monster Mike!
As for recent news from the Capitol, here’s a quick rundown:
The House majority has put forward a whopper of a Health and Human Services omnibus bill (H.F. 2414), which is now more than 1,000 pages and counting. While large omnibus bills have been met with criticism and concerns in the past, this omnibus package takes things to a whole new level and is believed to be the largest bill in state history. To make matters worse, minority members of the HHS committee received the bill just three hours – yes, just three hours to digest more than 1,000 pages – prior to the first hearing, despite the majority party receiving it the day before.
I am not on the committee and am working to comb through the finer points of the bill, but my initial impression is the contents are even worse than the rush job that is being put on this bill. It includes a multi-billion-dollar tax increase, raising the cost of health care on all Minnesotans and also cutting funding for our nursing homes. The bill also does not extend Minnesota's reinsurance program, which could cause premium rates to spike next year.
The House majority is proposing more than $12 billion in tax increases over the next four years, making health care, gas, and other everyday goods and services more expensive. Minnesotans already are overtaxed and many families and businesses alike simply can’t afford this added burden to fuel more state spending. This tax increase is not necessary, especially at a time the state has a $1 billion surplus.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the tax increases by subject:
Child care fraud update
The Office of the Legislative Auditor last week released a special review further evaluating widespread fraud the OLA previously reported exists within the state’s Child Care Assistance Program. The new OLA report indicates that program integrity controls at the Department of Human Serivces “are insufficient to effectively prevent, detect, and investigate fraud in Minnesota's Child Care Assistance Program.”
The report included numerous details of issues at the DHS and county levels that have compromised the state child care program’s integrity.
The majority consistently has said it wanted to hold off on conducting hearings because they wanted to wait for the OLA to release this report. With that report now in hand, we should expect hearings to discuss the finding of both CCAP reports to happen in short order so we can begin eliminating waste, fraud and abuse of our tax dollars.
A bill (H.F. 50) prohibiting drivers from using hand-held cell phones received final approval from the House this week, by a 107-19 vote, and has been enacted by Gov. Tim Walz. Offenders would be charged a $50 fine, but repeat offenses could top $200. The bill allows drivers to use phones and other devices as long as they are affixed to the vehicle and hands-free methods are used. Navigation apps still could be used as long as programming is done outside the flow of traffic. It takes effect this Aug. 1.
I was among the “yes” votes and, while I don’t love the bill, it is a step in the right direction and I just could not vote “no” and read about another death caused by distracted driving. I continue to say that no law is necessary in order for us to put our full attention toward the task at hand while driving and urge citizens to take this responsibility to heart each time we get behind the wheel.
The Legislature will be away from the Capitol this week in observance of the Easter/Passover break. Once we return to St. Paul, omnibus finance bills are expected to start coming to the floor for preliminary approval. Look for more on those proposals in upcoming emails.