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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Lisa Demuth (R)

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Update from the House

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dear Neighbor,

Congratulations to the Kerns and the Dockendorfs of rural Watkins for each being named a 2019 University of Minnesota Farm Family of the Year for their contributions in the field of agriculture. They were among families recognized during this year’s Farmfest event near Redwood Falls.

Steve and Lori Dockendorf operate Dockendorf Dairy in Stearns County. Their farm was first owned by Steve’s great grandfather. The family owns 150 cows and raises all its steers, with 130 of their cows being milked using Lely robots. They also farm 600 acres of land. Steve and Lori have four children – two of them with spouses – who all provide assistance.

Steve and Shelley Kern are owners/operators of their farm in Meeker County, raising dairy steers and growing corn, soybeans, alfalfa and hay. Steve’s parents started dairy farming in the early 60s and he and Shelley took over in ‘93. The Kerns have hosted numerous farm tours in cooperation with the U of M Extension and Minnesota Beef Council.

Congratulations again to the Dockendorfs and the Kerns for receiving this deserved recognition. It is a real tribute to their hard work and dedication on the local ag scene. Click here for more on the Farm Families of the Year program and a complete list of 2019 honorees.

As for news from the Capitol, I was most interested in Tuesday’s Senate joint Health and Human Services hearing that was scheduled to examine turmoil in the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Unfortunately, DHS failed to provide details taxpayers deserve during these tumultuous times at the state’s largest agency. There was no clear explanation provided for why four of the agency’s top officials recently resigned (two of whom have since returned) or how DHS made $25 million in overpayments for Medicaid services. The agency did not provide an update on the investigation into DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham and her role in allowing widespread childcare fraud to take place. Ham was placed on administrative leave March 18 and continued collecting her six-figure salary while at home the next four months. Interestingly, she has now returned to work in a different role at DHS even as the investigation into her continues.

The continued lack of transparency and information from DHS regarding rampant child care fraud is especially concerning. We have been waiting several months for details of exactly how child care fraud has been allowed to continue in Minnesota, but the public continues to be shut out. DHS officials remained evasive in their answers and even refused to provide basic information regarding who is conducting the investigation.

There simply seems to be no end to the problems at DHS. With every thread that is pulled, more dysfunction comes to the surface. It really is a case of “we don’t know what we don’t know” and, as the legislative auditor said, this is going to be a long process and audits themselves will not fix all that ails DHS.

The agency itself needs to start implementing plans to improve the way it operates and the Legislature likely will offer its own ideas. We could start with low-cost reform such as establishing an oversight board for DHS. This would not be a “gotcha” group, but a panel of physicians/clinicians, assistance recipients, legislators and others that could bring a new level of accountability and increase transparency without a high cost. It’s something to consider.

For now, I hope more DHS hearings are scheduled in the coming weeks/months. The Senate deserves credit for getting the ball rolling on this and I have formally requested that DHS hearings be added to the agenda when the House conducts a mini special session Oct. 2-4 in Winona.

Citizens deserve answers long before October, but putting that on the agenda for when the House next meets would at least assure people we are taking these issues at DHS seriously.

Until next time, I hope you are enjoying the final weeks of summer and are able to take advantage of what looks to be a beautiful stretch of upcoming weather.

Sincerely,

Lisa

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