April 16, 2010
Members of the House and Senate were busy passing bills on the chamber floors although activity at the Capitol has slowed down significantly. Many variables remain surrounding the state's economic situation and balancing the current budget. The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision soon regarding the constitutionality of Governor Pawlenty's 2009 unallotments. Earlier this year a case was brought against Pawlenty arguing he overstepped his bounds and the cuts were not within his authority. A ruling against him could have an impact of more than $2 billion on the state. The Governor's budget proposal also incorporates $400 million of federal stimulus funds for the state that have not yet been passed by Congress.
The House Health and Human Services Committee has started discussing how to make the most of the federal health care reform in conjunction with Minnesota's General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) population. The Legislature previously reached a compromise with the Governor to fix the GAMC program that had been cut. The fix creates up to 17 Coordinating Care Delivery Systems (CCDS) for the GAMC population. April 15 was the first deadline for submissions to the state for participation in the newly created CCDS program.
The rural hospitals at the hearing testified that they have opted out of the CCDS program due to difficulties forming a CCDS and the inability to take on the financial risk associated with the program. They urged the Legislature to participate in the federal Medical Assistance (MA) early enrollment option instead. Without the participation of the rural hospitals, significant access and coverage problems are created. The Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) urged the Legislature to early enroll eligible citizens in the federal MA program as well. The MHA stated that the CCDS program is under funded and the timeline too aggressive. Moving this population of health care users to the MA program would provide better coverage and increase access to services. There are many unanswered questions and the debate is contentious. It has been difficult to get straight answers from the federal government because the new programs have not been fully vetted.
Senate Finance Committee members approved a DWI ignition inter-lock bill which will likely see a vote on the floor next week. DWI offenders would keep their driving privileges and breath-activated ignition devices would be installed in the cars of repeat DWI offenders. Minnesota is one of the last states in the nation to adopt some form of an ignition inter-lock device law. On Thursday, House members approved a bill that will give harsher penalties to students bringing weapons to school and lighter punishments for BB guns and other replica weapons.
Vikings Stadium Being Tossed Around
The subject of a new stadium for the Vikings was in the spotlight this week. Lawmakers have met with Vikings officials to discuss options for a stadium proposal. Governor Pawlenty has made it clear he will not support any statewide taxes but legislators are considering other options including a Vikings license plate. The Twins' home-opener at Target Field energized sports fans across the state and the Vikings hope a new venue will create the same excitement for football. Pawlenty said this week that a plan for a new stadium is possible but unlikely.
The gubernatorial race-which at one point had more than two dozen candidates-will shrink significantly in the next two weeks. DFL party leaders will endorse a candidate in Duluth next weekend at the state convention. Three Democrats, Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza and Susan Gaertner, have said they will not abide by the endorsement and will stay in the race until the August primary election. Republicans will choose their contender the following weekend. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller suggested taking an extended break until after the conventions but many members think it is necessary that they stay and finish their legislative duties. Both the House and the Senate plan to have two floor sessions per week until after the conventions, then the schedule will likely intensify until the statutory adjournment date of May 17.
For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.
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