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BLOG: Capitol Update #3

An update on the activity at the Capitol from Senator Carlson during the last two weeks of session.

As the Senate passed some of the first bills of the 2013 Legislative Session this week, committees continued to review their budget areas and debated a variety of proposals moving through the legislative process. Yet, even as the legislature worked on issues ranging from school lunches to Minnesota’s Health Insurance Exchange, every debate and decision was framed in the ongoing budget discussions and our shared goal of securing the state’s long-term economic recovery, growing the middle class, and improving the quality of life for all Minnesota families.

 Around District 51

TOMORROW February 23rd - Town Hall Meeting: Please join us and Representative Sandra Masin (SD 51A) on February 23rd from 10:30-12:00 for our second Town Hall Meeting of the session. We will be meeting in the lower level conference room at Wescott Library, 1340 Wescott Road, Eagan.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Eagan High School Girls Hockey Team for a great season, and for competing in the State Tournament!

11 local students selected National Merit Scholars: Eleven District 51 seniors have been selected as finalists for the 2012-13 National Merit Scholarship Program, and are now eligible to compete for more than 8,300 merit scholarships to be awarded this spring. The finalists are  Justin Dietz, Madison Janvrin, Paulina Marell, Eleanor Schriner, Sylesh Volla, Kevin Wei and Aliya Zhdanov of Eagan High School;  Audrey Gunn and Lauren Schaffran of Eastview; Mitchell Dawson of Apple Valley; and Paul Wollersheim of Rosemount High School.

Students who score in the top 1 percent nationwide on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test are selected as semifinalists and can then submit additional information to be considered as a finalist. Students who score in the top 5 percent of students nationally are named commended students; 36 District 196 students earned commended status last fall.

Nominate Outstanding Eagan and Burnsville Residents for the Patch’s Community Spotlight Series. From Patch: Every day, Eagan residents are taking action to make the community a better place. The Eagan Patch wants to recognize their efforts by kicking off a series of personal spotlights—short profiles highlighting an individual's outstanding contributions.

To make this work, however, they need your nominations! Email Patch Editor David Henke at david.henke@patch.com with a short message listing the first and last name of your nominee, contact information for that person and a brief description telling us why he or she deserves recognition.

Around the Capitol

Freedom to Marry Day

Click Here for a Video of Freedom to Marry Day on Feb 14 from Minnesotans United

 

My Committees

Here’s what’s been happening in the committees that I serve on.

Transportation

In Transportation Committee I presented my first bill, SF-185, which writes into statute the position of the MnDOT Ombudsperson. In 2008 the Department created the function to increase trust and confidence in the agency. As we all know in our contacts with constituents, an understanding ear and an explanation are the most effective communications to bring expectations to balance with the responsibilities of the Department. The Ombudsman is a neutral, independent resource for the public to connect with when they have an issue relating to the MnDOT. The Ombudsman conducts neutral fact finding, facilitates discussion, generates options, and investigates possible resolutions to the issue. The Commissioner then makes the final decision on resolving the issue.

Commerce

We heard a presentation on insurance fraud prevention from Carl Hammersburg of SAS. His presentation detailed the large amount of insurance fraud being committed by individuals, and gangs, in Minnesota every year.

Health and Human Services – Finance Division

We heard SF-1, the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace Act, on February 14th  which would create a Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange. The billed passed through committee, you can read more about the bill’s status below.

Education

Increase in School Lunch Aid
Student lunches took a prominent role in the education and education Finance committees this week. Multiple bills to increase state aid for lunches were heard.

One proposal raised the state contribution from 12 to 14 cents on all school lunches. The price of school lunches has increased 18% in the past six years, from an average of $2.62 to $3.09, but the state has not increased its funding in that time.

Another proposal raised state aid for reduced lunches. Currently, low-income families pay a maximum of 40 cents per school lunch, but legislation was heard to have the state pick up the entire 40 cents for families.

Research has shown a positive link between nutrition and student achievement: well-nourished students tend to perform better. School lunches also tend to be healthier, with more key nutrients, vegetables and milk, and less sugar than non-school lunches.

Safe School Levy
In order to further help with children’s mental health, the Education Policy committee passed and re-referred a bill to Education Finance that authorizes schools to pay the cost of collocating and collaborating with mental health professionals, who are not district employees or contractors.

School districts have the ability to expand their levy from $30 multiplied by pupil units to $45, and from $10 to $15 for intermediate districts. Schools will have the ability to bring in experts from beyond the school district to develop positive behavioral interventions for students.

Teacher Licensure

We heard and considered Senator Bonoff’s Bill (SF 547) for an extension for non-native speakers to pass an English-based skills test before they receive and a license to teach in a world language immersion program. The bill provides a temporary license for three years in order to give non-native instructors more time to pass the exam.  We also learned more about language immersion programs in Minnesota, and I have received some wonderful constituent cards from students of these schools in many languages!

Important Issues

Health Insurance Exchange reaches final Senate hurdle

After hearings in the State and Local Government, Judiciary, Commerce, Health, Human Services and Housing, Taxes and Finance committees, the Senate’s Health Care Exchange bill is set to see its last hearing in the Rules Committee. Once the legislation is recommended to pass by the Rules Committee, it will head to the Senate floor for debate and a vote by the entire Senate.

The Senate is looking to pass the legislation before the federal deadline of Mar. 31 and with the bill hitting the floor as early as next week, it looks the deadline will likely be met.

The state-based exchange will serve one out of every five Minnesotans and create a market-based solution that will allow insurance companies to compete for business. Creating the exchange gives the Legislature a great opportunity to continue to lead the nation in healthcare coverage.

Along with the potential to save Minnesotan’s money, the exchange will help small businesses provide affordable health care choices to their employees. By 2016, it is estimated that approximately 300,000 currently uninsured Minnesotans could gain coverage through the exchange marketplace.

Senate Passes Medical Assistance Expansion

Legislation to expand Medical Assistance (MA) eligibility in Minnesota passed off the Senate floor this week with a strong bipartisan vote.

The legislation will lead to MA coverage for an additional 87,000 Minnesotans. Combining this expansion with the “Early Expansion” Gov. Dayton implemented in 2011, will save the state approximately $1 billion by 2015.

Proponents of the legislation believe the increase of insured Minnesotans will benefit everyone in the state. A lack of coverage increases uncompensated care costs for medical facilities, which then passes the cost onto consumers and taxpayers.

As the legislation made its way through the committee process it was endorsed by several groups, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Hospital Association and Minnesota Medical Association.

The bill passed the House earlier this week and the Governor signed it into law on February 19th.

Veteran’s Tax Credit Legislation

I signed on to legislation that was introduced this week to provide businesses with a tax credit for hiring veterans. The bill calls for three levels of tax credit.

• $3,000 for hiring a disabled veteran

• $1,500 for hiring an unemployed veteran

• $500 for hiring a veteran

Currently, Minnesota’s veteran’s unemployment rate is more than 20%. The legislation is another tool that helps our veterans and builds upon existing programs. The bill is a win-win for Minnesota. Veterans are highly skilled, disciplined workers and Minnesota businesses will get talented workers, which in turn will help them grow and hire more employees.

Gun Violence Prevention

The Senate spent two days this week discussing legislation to address gun violence. The hearings were used as an opportunity to start the discussion of gun control. No votes were taken.

Instead of banning weapons, the legislation largely focused on keeping guns out of the hands of people that should not be allowed to own them. Most of the legislation looks at ways to bolster existing laws to help police and prosecutors enforce them. This includes closing loopholes that allow felons who committed a violent crime to own a gun, addressing the “gun show” loophole, enforcing background checks and several other changes.

It is expected that the Senate will create a package of bills to address gun violence later this session. Along with language discussed in the Judiciary Committee discussed this week, the collection of bills will most likely include legislation to address holes in Minnesota’s mental health system.

Earlier this session, legislation was introduced to invest in school-linked mental health services, training for mental health professionals on early psychosis and intensive treatments and supports for families with adolescents and young adults experiencing their first psychotic episode.

Frac Sand Mining

Members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and of the House Energy Policy Committee heard testimony on Feb. 19 from silica sand mining industry advocates and opponents. Residents from southeastern Minnesota came to the Capitol by the busload to testify both for and against silica sand mining.

Opponents of mining urge state lawmakers to take a role in mining regulation. They argue local government decision makers cannot find answers about public health, environment, transportation and economic needs on their own, so the state needs a seat at the table to help make decisions and find possible solutions.

Silica sand mining industry advocates argue state standards are not needed. Local governments have been regulating the industry, so mining proponents argue state involvement only duplicates local government action. They believe the industry varies from facility to facility and regulations should be decided individually to address local issues and concerns directly.

Safe School Levy

In order to further help with children’s mental health, the Education Policy committee passed and re-referred a bill to Education Finance that authorizes schools to pay the cost of collocating and collaborating with mental health professionals, who are not district employees or contractors.

School districts have the ability to expand their levy from $30 multiplied by pupil units to $45, and from $10 to $15 for intermediate districts. Schools will have the ability to bring in experts from beyond the school district to develop positive behavioral interventions for students.

Early Voting

The Senate Subcommittee on Elections heard a proposal this week to allow early, in-person voting in Minnesota. Currently 32 states and Washington, D.C. provide for early voting, while Minnesota offers traditional absentee voting only.

The proposed change to election law would provide voters an opportunity to cast early ballots for a primary, general or special election for federal, state or county offices. If enacted, early voting would start 15 days before the election and end three days before the election. Current absentee voting procedures in Minnesota would not be affected except that, during the 12-day early voting period, in-person absentee voters would be required to cast a normal early ballot.

Supporters of the bill cite the convenience and increased accessibility that an early voting period offers, especially in light of recent elections during which voters waited in line for hours on Election Day. They point out that early voting provides more flexibility than absentee voting and allows voters to ensure their ballot is counted when work, family, health, weather and other situations prevent them from going to the polls on Election Day. Opponents argue that voters may change their mind if they vote early, that early voting is contrary to the spirit of Election Day, and that it violates the constitutionally prescribed date for voting. Others raised concerns that early voting might increase opportunities for voter fraud.

 The Subcommittee on Elections laid the bill over for possible action later in session. It is worth noting that Governor Dayton has indicated any elections reforms passed by the legislature must have bipartisan support in order to earn his signature.

Thank you.

Thank you for your interest in our community and our state. I am thankful to be serving our district and Minnesota this session. 

Please let us know what types of things you would like to see featured in future newsletters.  

You can also keep up with me at my Senate website, click on the “In Touch with Senator Carlson” link at www.senate.mn/senatorcarlson.

Sincerely,

Jim Carlson

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Deb M February 23, 2013 at 11:43 PM
I was at Jim and Sandy's Town Hall Meeting at the Wescott Library Saturday morning. It was nice to see such a good turnout and to hear what our elected officials are doing. There was a lot of give and take with Jim and Sandy fielding questions from the audience. I felt our representative WANT to hear our feelings and opinions. I believe, with meetings such as this, Burnsville and Eagan can rest assured that their voices are going to be heard to at the capitol.
Donald Lee March 01, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Please provide detail for these claims on the Health Care Exchange: "The state-based exchange will serve one out of every five Minnesotans and create a market-based solution that will allow insurance companies to compete for business. Creating the exchange gives the Legislature a great opportunity to continue to lead the nation in healthcare coverage." I often see these claims like it will be "market driven", that it will lower costs. If you read the bill, there is nothing I can see that will do that. Can you detail exactly how this will work? This will be central to our future health care. It is well worth a blog post with details. See my post for suggestions on what to address: http://mendotaheights.patch.com/blog_posts/health-care-exchange-not-what-it-seems
Ken in MN March 04, 2013 at 12:50 PM
Donald, how about you link to the bill so we can all read it? As to how a health insurance exchange lowers cost, why don't you ask the conservative, Koch Brother-founded and funded Heritage Foundation? It was their idea...
Ken in MN March 04, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Oh well, I won't wait for a response from Donald. I'll just go on to posit that Mr. Lee thinks we're stupid. He thinks we will accept his premise that all of the supporting information would actually be contained in the text of the bill. It's not (show me a bill that ever does.) That information is contained in the records of studies and hearings that informed and shaped the legislation, something that has been worked on for a couple of years now. Here is a link to an excellent, nonpartisan source: http://healthreform.kff.org/state-exchange-profiles/minnesota.aspx
Donald Lee March 04, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Good suggestion. There is lots of information here: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/bills/billnum.asp?ls_year=88&session_year=2013&session_number=0&billnumber=5 The full text, and all revisions can be found in the links.
Donald Lee March 04, 2013 at 04:52 PM
A careful reading of that KFF link reveals that all the hard numbers are of money planned to be spent, and ratios of enrolee's incomes to standard poverty measures. There is nothing that I noticed that would explain exactly how this exchange will actually reduce costs, improve care, or increase competition. In fact, there was an article in the Pioneer Press this morning pointing to Joe Atkins' proposal to amend the bill to change it from "active purchaser" to a simple "marketplace". Let me translate: The current bill - active purchaser - will choose the health care plans for us. The only insurance options that will be carried in the exchange are the ones "chosen" by the 7-member, unelected, and largely unaccountable board. For those who use the exchange, they will quite literally be choosing our health care options for us. Joe Atkins is concerned that because of the high cost of "applying" to the exchange, we may have very few insurance companies who will participate. There is some risk that NO insurance companies will even apply. http://www.twincities.com/ci_22710800/health-exchange-concerns-incentive-added-minnesota-house-bill?IADID=Search-www.twincities.com-www.twincities.com Take careful note - one of the points of contention is whether the unelected board will even provide the criteria for selection to the insurance companies they are selecting. The law is currently silent. What a wonderful opportunity for Big Money corruption!
Grace Kelly March 04, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Health exchanges are the first time that we actually have a free market with defined choices for health care customers to actually shop at. Prior to this, since once could not switch once one was sick and one could not actually get health plan details or differences, it was all shopping blindly. A health care insurere could and did deny coverage until the death of sick patients. Documentation is in the book "Deadly Spin - and insurance company insider speaks out on how corporate PR is killing health care and deceiving Americans" by Wendell Potter, available at http://wendellpotter.com/deadlyspin/. And health care companies have high profits to pay many people including bloggers to do their PR lies. If you hear the lies often, it because companies are making lots of money from those lies.
Ken in MN March 04, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Donald, board members are chosen by the governor, and are subject to confirmation by the Senate. (See Sec. 8. [62V.04] GOVERNANCE, of the bill you supposedly read.) Your use of the term, "unelected and largely unaccountable" is code word for "BIG SCARY SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT", so de rigueur with teabaggers. As for your assertion that the real risk is that no insurance companies will apply, why do you think insurance companies supported the legislation? Because they all want in on the action! You might as well run around saying that the real risk is the Rapture will happen tomorrow, so there's no point in doing anything about anything...
Donald Lee March 04, 2013 at 07:08 PM
I encourage everyone to read the bill: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/bills/billnum.asp?ls_year=88&session_year=2013&session_number=0&billnumber=5 I see nothing in it that will actually DO what Grace Kelly suggests. Please educate me. What in this legislation will have the benefits its proponents promise? In fact, the "active purchaser" model, which is the current proposal, will actually further constrain the available policies to a handful. It will indeed be easier to shop, but only by eliminating most choices. All policies offered on the exchange will be very complete, and very expensive. It is ironic that if Ms .Kelly is correct, then the health insurance companies will have enormous incentive to find favor with the HIX "board", and be one of the very few options to be "actively purchased". It is essentially an even tighter monopoly, enforced by regulation, than we have today. I see no improvement in any of this - on choice, on cost, on care, or on liberty. Whatever you think of insurance companies, this will be worse, not better. This is a disaster, not an improvement.
Donald Lee March 04, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Sorry - I posted a link to the closely related house bill. The senate bill is here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?f=SF1&b=senate&y=2013&ssn=0
Ken in MN March 04, 2013 at 08:29 PM
Cue the black helicopters and fade to black... (But at least Donald admitted that the health insurance "market" as it exists today is a monopoly...)

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