It’s been a busy first few weeks here at the Capitol. Committees have begun to meet, set the rules we will be governed under, and the first bills are making their way to committee. Below is a quick recap of the biggest issues of the first few weeks.
March for Life
Jan. 22 marked the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court. Thousands of pro-life supporters from across the state took part in a march at the state capitol to show their support for the unborn. I was proud to join them and many of my constituents who also braved the cold weather to stand for life. (tncms-asset)b5370766-28b5-11e9-86b2-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
The purpose of the march, which is organized by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, is to commemorate the lives lost to abortion and to call for renewed respect and protection for all members of the human family, including unborn children and their mothers.
Don’t raise the ‘sick tax’
Last Tuesday, Minnesota House Republicans held a press conference urging the new DFL House majority and Governor Walz not to raise health care costs on Minnesotans by restoring the sick tax — a 2 percent tax levied on most patient services in Minnesota, including things like baby deliveries, chemotherapy treatments, routine doctor visits, emergency room visits and more. (tncms-asset)7d1839e4-28b6-11e9-99e8-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
The tax, which was eliminated as part of bipartisan legislation passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Dayton in 2011, is set to expire starting Jan. 1, 2020.
Restoring the tax would result in a more than $600 million increase in health care costs for Minnesotans next year alone. Over the past week, Walz called it a “nonstarter” to end the tax, and DFL House HHS Finance Chair Tina Liebling said it was “essential” to restore the tax or replace its revenue.
Last year, numbers from the Minnesota Department of Human Services budget director indicated Minnesota is losing tens of millions of dollars per month by failing to implement periodic data matching, which helps verify program eligibility for Minnesota public programs. DHS has acknowledged that fraud within the child care assistance program is a “big problem,” costing the state tens of millions of dollars, and the non-partisan legislative auditor has released multiple reports detailing hundreds of millions in public program benefits going to recipients who are not eligible.
This approach simply does not make sense. We offer a simple alternative: Don’t raise our health care costs. You don’t make health care more affordable by taxing it. Democrats seem insistent on moving forward with this tax but we will continue to remind them there is a different, better way to lower health care costs.
Last week’s action
On Jan. 30, the House State Government Finance Division heard House File 14, a bill that would allow Minnesota to take advantage of federal election security funds provided under the Help America Vote Act. Federal law requires a state match to take advantage of the federal funds.
On a party-line vote, House Democrats voted down my amendment to provide the funding for the state’s matching portion of the funds, the same amount indicated in Secretary of State Steve Simon’s budget request (page 27). Instead of fully funding the election security measures, House Democrats chose to advance the bill without the required funding match attached.
We are nearly a full month into session — it’s puzzling that Democrats not only haven’t passed this bill off the floor, but are voting down amendments in committee to provide the required state matching funds. We all agree election security is important and want to put funding in place to protect our voting systems.
The sooner we provide these funds, the sooner our secretary of state can take steps to ensure fair and safe elections. The decision by House Democrats to not fund this today raises the question of what games will be played with this important legislation.
In a press release last May, Secretary of State Steve Simon sounded the alarm on the urgent need for the election security funding, and said failure to provide the funding would be a “direct threat to our democracy.”
On Jan. 3, Secretary Simon reiterated the need to act quickly on the elections security legislation, saying, “Protecting the security of our elections systems remains a critical need. Though we have no evidence of a breach or even an attempt to breach our systems in 2018, we cannot rely on past successes alone to deter potential future attacks on our system. I am pleased that both Speaker-elect Hortman and Leader Gazelka agree that this important federal investment in our democracy should be allocated quickly so that my team can get to work on needed security.”
Rep. Michael Nelson, D-Brooklyn Park, chair of the House State Government Finance Division and chief author of HF14, stated in the same press release from the Secretary of State’s Office, “This should’ve gotten done last year. I’m committed to working with Speaker Hortman and my counterparts in the Senate to make sure this gets done quickly and early in the session.”
The bill — without the necessary state match funding — is heading to the Ways and Means Committee with a recommendation that the bill be placed on the General Register.
Many of you have already been in touch to discuss your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you. Thank you for sharing your ideas! Please continue to contact me to discuss any legislation put before the House, or any other matters to which I can be of assistance. You can set up a time to visit me at the capitol by calling me at 651-296-5185 or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.