More affordable health care, increased support for early childhood education and preventing gun violence were three key themes as House DFL leaders presented their priorities for the 2019 legislative session Wednesday.
The sponsors of 10 pieces of legislation that are expected to be introduced as House Files 1 through 10 during Thursday’s House session described the proposed bills as the “Minnesota Values Agenda.” Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth) said that it arose from conversations legislators have had about the future of the state with Minnesotans and community groups over the past two years.
“We listened to people’s hopes, their fears, their dreams, and what keeps them up at night,” Olson said at a news conference. “We want to make our state work better for all of us, no matter where you live, what you look like, or anything else that’s set up to divide us.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) added, “Our work will focus on improving economic prosperity for all families across the state.”
Each of the 10 bills’ sponsors spoke briefly about the aim of their legislation.
HF1: The Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act. “We suffer from one of the largest opportunity gaps in the country,” said Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL-Eden Prairie), “and this gap starts long before kindergarten. … (This act) invests in pre-natal care, home visiting for new parents, and early development in care, especially for low-income children ages birth to three.”
HF2: K-12 student support legislation. Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) spoke of funding for school mental health programs and school support professionals, as well as funding for “full-service community schools” and creating greater opportunities for children of color.
HF3: More affordable health care through a MinnesotaCare buy-in. Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) said, “One of the big challenges in health care, and there are many, is that individual insurance is too expensive and doesn’t cover enough. And so our MinnesotaCare buy-in option will provide a better opportunity for Minnesotans who buy their insurance on the individual market to have a product that covers more and costs less. … Too many Minnesotans can’t afford insurance, and, if they can afford it, they can’t afford the out-of-pockets. So they essentially have no access to care.”
HF4: Preventing prescription drug price gouging and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable. Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) shared the story of the price of a drug for treating AIDS-related symptoms rising over 60-fold, while Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) talked about the rising prices of insulin for those with diabetes, saying, “No one should lose their life because they can’t afford life-saving medication.” They said that they will work to hold “big pharma” accountable, but didn’t share details about how legislation at the state level will target the issue.
HF5: The Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. “There are folks who really struggle trying to maintain their employment while dealing with a major illness, the birth or adoption of a new child, or caring for an elderly or sick relative,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan). “This is a proposal that’s going to make sure that Minnesotans have the access to the care and the time that they need to care for their loved ones, to bond with a new baby, and maintain their employment careers.”
HF6: Wage theft prevention and enforcement. Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul): “We’re going to make it so that when you work, you get paid. … While 99.9 percent of the employers are good employers, 40,000 people get money stolen from them every year, and they only have the staff to work with about 2,000 of them over at the Department of Labor and Industry. We’re going to give them the tools to do their job.”
HF7: Rural broadband expansion. “We have to figure out how to serve the unserved first,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), “and then work with the underserved. It’s going to play an increasingly important role in the lives of Minnesotans as we go along, and we have to make sure that all Minnesotans have access to high-speed internet. … We need dollars to meet the state’s speed goal by 2026.”
HF8: Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people through criminal background checks on all sales. “Minnesotans deserve to be safe at school, at work and in the community, and this measure will help us with that,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul).
HF9: Preventing gun violence through extreme risk protection orders. Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights): “This proposal would help law enforcement and family members keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous to themselves or others. We’ve heard far too many stories over the last several years of shootings that could have been prevented with extreme risk protection orders. When family members and law enforcement see clear red flags, they should be able to do something about them.”
HF10: Protecting Minnesotans from sexual harassment. “All Minnesotans deserve to work and live in an environment that’s free from sexual harassment,” Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview) said. “It’s clear that we need to change the current status of the law away from the ‘severe or pervasive’ standard for sexual harassment. This bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support last year, and it’s time that we get it done.”
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) believes all of the proposals could pass both the House and Senate.
“A number of these issues are things that have been passed already or have passed in other states with Republican support,” Winkler said, “such as the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. … We will be working with Republican senators and Democratic senators in order to move through as many of these initiatives as we can. But this agenda is not necessarily designed to be governed by what Republicans will accept this year. We are talking about the needs of Minnesotans regardless of whether or not it can pass this session or this biennium.”
Hortman added, “These are values that Minnesotans share across party lines. When you go down the line, we’ve seen bipartisan support for everything here except gun violence prevention. … But Minnesota voters made very clear that they wanted to see action (on that).”
House Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) is not fully on board.
“Democrats said today that it was ‘essential’ to raise health care taxes – House Republicans couldn’t disagree more. Our priority will be to lower taxes and health care costs for Minnesota families,” he said in a statement.
At a separate news conference, Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal), one of four legislators in the New House Republican Caucus, assailed the MinnesotaCare buy-in proposal, citing low-reimbursement rates. “This is going to shutter rural hospitals.”
He echoed what Senate Republican leaders said at a Tuesday press conference about their own proposals for lowering health care costs, speaking of making health care more affordable by pursuing transparency in pricing and increasing access through greater consumer choice of providers of services.
Another member of the new caucus, Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg), offered a more strongly worded disapproval. “Under the guise of ‘We care, we can do things,’ understand they are here to take your freedoms, take your money, take your guns, and take your children.”
Staff writer Erin Martin contributed to this story.