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Last of three multi-subject budget bills gets House approval; heads to Senate

Rep. Tony Cornish, from left, Rep. Matt Dean and Rep. Sarah Anderson discuss parts of HF3467 on the House Floor April 28. Photos by Paul Battaglia

Abortion, the Appleton prison, security hospital funding and guns were all part of a more than 12-hour debate that culminated with House passage of the health and human services, state government and public safety supplemental budget bill in the early-morning hours Friday.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood), HF3467, as amended, was passed 72-57 and sent to the Senate. It is the third supplemental budget bill approved by the House this week: an education bill was passed Monday and a bill containing agriculture, energy, environment and jobs provisions passed Wednesday.

The Senate passed its 611-page, all-encompassing supplemental appropriations bill 39-24 Thursday.

Here’s a look at what’s in — and some of what didn’t make — the House bill.

 

Abortion

A flurry of proposed abortion regulations received some of the fiercest debate.

Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) successfully offered an amendment that would require certain facilities that perform 10 or more abortions per month to meet the licensure requirements of outpatient surgical centers.

She said abortion facilities’ lack of oversight put women at serious risk of unsafe care. “Women deserve better.”

Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Mpls) said the amendment would only drive up costs unrelated to the facilities’ services. “This amendment is a red herring pretending to be about safety for women. When in fact, the goal is to cut access to safe and legal abortions.”

Rep. Tara Mack (R-Apple Valley) said claiming women’s health isn’t a priority of the amendment’s supporters is false.

“When a woman walks into (an abortion) clinic, she’s not alone. … While it may be safe for her, it’s extremely dangerous for the baby,” Mack said. “I think the baby has the right to be properly disposed of with dignity.”

Another successfully offered amendment would prohibit facilities that perform abortion services or have affiliations with the services from receiving certain Title X funds and federal family planning grants, shifting funds to other clinics that serve poor and minority women.

Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), who sponsors the amendment, said more than $10 million would be shifted and women would be able to receive more comprehensive care.

“What I just listened to is malarkey,” countered Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul). “This is simply a procedural move … to destabilize Planned Parenthood so you can limit abortion.”

Successfully offered by Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud), an amendment would prohibit state-sponsored health programs from being used for abortion procedures except as required by federal programs.

Language that would require a clinic to report to the state on abortion procedures using telemedicine, which typically involves a doctor giving a prescription from a separate location via webcam.

 

MNsure

Sponsored by Dean, language from the omnibus health and human services finance bill would not increase total health and human services appropriation, but would propose new spending that would be covered by shifted funds – primarily by ending MNsure.

The bill would fully repeal MNsure, the state’s health care exchange, subject to obtaining a federal waiver, and begin transitioning Minnesota citizens onto the federal Healthcare.gov website starting with 2017 enrollments.

“MNsure is on track to getting better. But if this passes, it will just be ripped out,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester).

The bill would also shift nearly $20 million in MNsure appropriations for Fiscal Year 2017, and approximately $40 million for the ensuing biennium, to cover the other health and human services spending; halve MNsure’s private policies premium tax to 1.75 percent starting Jan. 1, 2017, with buyback options if benchmarks are met; and prevent state departments from transferring or entering agreements with MNsure whose cost exceeds $100,000 after July 1, 2016.

 

Other HHS Spending

The diverse health and human services spending initiatives outlined in the bill include several programs for integrating substance abuse and mental health care, reductions to the counties’ share of chemical dependency payments and increased funding for training physicians who will serve Greater Minnesota.

The bill would also prevent future liens and refund current liens against certain recently eligible Medical Assistance enrollees who were unaware of the liens when they signed up.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) successfully amended the bill to require the state contract with an outside vender to analyze and determine if all persons signed up for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare are actually eligible for the benefits. Citing years of state audits, he believes the state is wasting millions of dollars.

Any savings generated would be put into a special fund. If the fund reaches a certain level, it would cover wage 5 percent increases — the so-called “5 percent campaign” — sought for workers who care for elderly and disabled Minnesotans.

Several DFL lawmakers criticized the bill for not directly funding the wage increase and for lacking new staff funding to address safety concerns at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. Dean said funds were appropriated last session to address the issue.

Although not a financial provision, the bill would repeal child care unionization legislation passed in 2013.

 

Public Safety

Heading into the floor debate, the omnibus public safety bill, HF291, had just one financial provision — a $1 million transfer from MINNCOR Industries to the General Fund for Fiscal Year 2017. Senate targets call for a $45 million increase in judiciary and public safety spending.

An amendment offered by Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) to adopt the governor’s budget recommendations for corrections, courts and public safety was ruled out of order.

“Public safety should be a priority for Minnesota,” she said. “We have an opportunity to do the right thing.”

An expansion of authorization to use disaster contingency account monies to pay for any agricultural emergency is included in the bill. Previously, the money was only to be used for avain flu emergency response activities. Fund availability would be extended to June 30, 2019.

The bill still contains four policy provisions, three of which remain noncontroversial: increasing penalties for driving unlicensed in certain cases, a fine increase for failure to stop for school bus displaying its stop arm and illegally passing on the right side of a school bus flashing its amber lights, and allowing sensory testing services to possess and serve alcohol as a part of their business.

The fourth stirred much discussion. It would direct the Department of Corrections to “attempt to complete negotiations by January 1, 2017, of a contract to operate and purchase or lease to own an existing prison facility with a capacity of at least 1,500 beds located in Appleton, Minnesota.” The contract would require legislative approval before final execution.

Hilstrom was unsuccessful with her proposed amendment to ban private prisons in Minnesota. Other anti-private prison amendments from Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls), Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park) were also rejected.

They might be moot points.

The state’s correctional facilities now hold about 560 inmates more than capacity, a gap forecast to exceed 1,200 inmates by 2022 if everything stays the same in terms of statutes and sentencing. To help with the current situation, the department now leases about 475 beds at county jails.

The Prairie Correctional Facility was closed by the Corrections Corporation of America in February 2010 following declining demand from Minnesota and other states. However, the prison has been maintained since its closure. Gov. Mark Dayton previously said he does not support state involvement with the Appleton prison, and has suggested the state should instead focus on ways to reduce its prison population.

To that end, Hilstrom said a compromise has been reached between attorneys, law enforcement and lawmakers to lighten criminal penalties for some drug offenses based off changes made earlier this year by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission. The changes are expected to save more than 600 beds.

In a January 2016 report, the commission recommended creation of enhanced crimes for possession of drugs in quantities significantly greater than existing first-degree thresholds. It also recommends that the Legislature reduce possession of a trace amount of a controlled substance from a felony to a gross misdemeanor. Without legislative action, the changes will take effect Aug. 1, 2016. A House committee earlier this year voted to reject the changes.

What would a public safety debate be without gun provisions? To that end, a pair of proposals were unsuccessfully offered by Schoen.

One amendment would have required background checks on weapons transfers by unlicensed dealers; the other would have prohibited a concealed-carry permit holder from carrying a firearm in a Capitol Area building where the Legislature conducts its business when school children are present. Both were ruled out of order.

Amendments successfully added to the bill include:

  • creating penalties for operating an unmanned aerial vehicle within 1 mile of a public safety helicopter during operations; however, a law enforcement agency, fire department or emergency medical service provider would be exempt under certain circumstances;
  • fixing a child sex trafficking loophole by enhancing two penalties for attempting to or hiring a minor to engage in prostitution to include cases where the offender reasonably believes the victim was a certain age; and
  • enhancing the sentence by up to 25 percent of the statutory maximum for a felony-level assault based on bias, such as a person’s race, sex or sexual orientation.

Not added to the bill was a Schoen amendment to regulate use of portable video recording systems worn by peace officers, including classification of data as private or public. Despite an urging from Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) to act on the proposal, it was ruled out of order.

 

State Government Finance

Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), the sponsor of the state government finance portion of the bill, said the language prioritizes state government spending while improving transparency and oversight. The bill calls for a net $9.5 million reduction in state department and veterans spending; Senate targets call for a $30 million increase.

Appropriations to executive agencies, including constitutional offices, would be reduced by a combined $6.52 million. To the “greatest extent possible,” reductions would come from 5 percent salary reductions for commissioners, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners; reduction in nonessential travel; a 10 percent reduction in advertising expenses and an executive and legislative branch hiring freeze until July 1, 2017, with exceptions carved out for a work-study position, or a position “necessary to perform essential government services.”

Five departments would not be affected: Corrections, Human Services, Military Affairs, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs.

An 80 percent reduction in the Senate carryforward account would generate $3.14 million and the Legislative Coordinating Commission appropriation would be reduced by $133,000.

It is anticipated that $2.67 million would be gained from a suspension of the public subsidy program under which people can check a box on their tax return to have $5 go to help candidates for state office pay campaign expenses.

The bill calls for the elimination of the state auditor’s enterprise fund, with its balance going into the General Fund. Future Audit Practice Division service payments, such as those done on local units of government, would go to the General Fund, from where the division would again be funded as it was before Fiscal Year 2014. Next year’s anticipated receipts total $6.95 million.

In terms of additional spending, the bill calls for $1.8 million for security improvements at National Guard facilities and $300,000 for the state soldiers assistance fund for housing and health assistance. An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) would move $180,000 from the Legislative Coordinating Commission’s carryforward account to the Fiscal Year 2017 base appropriation for the Department of Human Rights to operate its St. Cloud office at a full-time level.

A onetime $500,000 appropriation would go to MN.IT Services to perform a study of cybersecurity across state government. In his supplemental budget, the governor is requesting $20.2 million to enhance cybersecurity across state government.

“Minnesotans personal information … is at a high degree of risk and Republicans are doing nothing about it,” said Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul), using social security numbers and other financial documents as examples. He said MN.IT has already studied the issue and would like to move forward.

Other provisions in the bill include:

  • prohibiting a state agency from proposing a fee or fine increase of more than 10 percent in a biennium over the same fee or fine in law at the biennium’s start;
  • amending the process for removing a veteran from government employment under the Veterans Preference Act, including the time when a hearing would be requested and allowing an arbitrator to hear the case rather than a civil service board or three-person panel;
  • removal of a requirement that school districts request a proposal from the public employee insurance program for group health insurance coverage and districts would be permitted to have contracts up to five years in length and service cooperatives could have four-year contracts;
  • a prohibition of the procurement of supplies or services from those who fail to disclose information relating to conflict minerals originating in the Congo;
  • establishing a legislative surrogacy commission to develop recommendations on public policy and laws regarding surrogacy;
  • a repeal of the Legislative Water Commission;
  • requiring the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy to make recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2017 on the process and timing to establish budget targets; and
  • conforming Minnesota’s definition of “killed in the line of duty” with the federal definition for purposes of awarding benefits to survivors of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

An amendment from House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) that, he said, would make the Legislature more transparent went down 69-60. Among its provisions are conference committee reports would need to be published at least 24 hours before House and Senate votes, member reimbursement expenses would need to be published each month on the legislative web site and the Legislative Commission on Data Practices would recommend options to expand public access to legislative records and meetings.

House Public Information Services assistant editor Mike Cook and writer Josh Moniz contributed to this story.

 


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