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Presenting 'Vision 2020' Agenda, Reducing Prescription Drug Prices

On this week's program, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to provide an outline of the Republican Caucus priorities for the 2020 session. Plus, Governor Tim Walz emphasizes improvements to local water supply and waste water treatment as priorities among his $2 billion dollar bonding proposal.

Also on the program, Senate Health and Human Services Chair Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, and Senator and physician Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, suggest ways that the state can help reduce prescription drug costs.

Senate Republicans Present 'Vision 2020' Agenda

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka outlined the 2020 Senate GOP agenda at a press conference Monday, January 13. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene the legislative session Tuesday, February 11, at a time when Minnesota finds itself in a stable economic position. State officials project a budget surplus of $1.3 billion dollars, with a full budget reserve account of nearly $2.4 billion dollars, the statutory maximum.

In light of the budget surplus, Gazelka said, “We want to give some of it back.” Currently, Minnesota taxes a portion of social security income, and GOP lawmakers would like to see that income become fully exempt. “Let’s be one of those states that doesn’t tax our seniors when they’ve paid all the way through, and then now they have to pay again,” he said.

Other goals of the “Vision 2020” blueprint are a bonding bill focused on wastewater improvements, higher education building improvements, and road and bridge projects. The vision further includes measures to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, proposals to increase public safety, a plan to improve the Department of Human Services and the Clean Energy First Act, a measure that would prioritize clean energy solutions to meet the state’s future energy needs.

In response to the GOP Agenda, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk released the following statement: “Republicans launched their 2020 agenda today with no mention of the work they’ve been doing to block progress for Minnesotans. They’ve refused time and again to even give important bills a public hearing – proposals that could increase access to affordable health care, help students succeed in school, make our communities safer, and ensure Minnesota workers have access to paid family and medical leave have been ignored by Senate Republicans.”

Preparing for Minnesota's Energy Future

The energy needed to heat and cool our homes, turn on our lights, power our vehicles and drive our technology is growing in demand and efficiency. Senator David Osmek, R-Mound, and chair of the Senate Energy Committee, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke as he prepares to bring his committee to Minnesota’s communities to discuss Minnesota's energy future.

Senator David Senjem, R-Rochester, is the author of the Clean Energy First Act, a member of the transportation committee and chair of the Capital Investments Committee. He joins Shannon to offer his perspective on moving towards clean energy and investing in Minnesota's future infrastructure.

Also, Governor Tim Walz has created a subcabinet to address policies impacting climate change. Senator Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, sponsors Governor Walz's clean energy bill, and he joins Shannon Loehrke to highlight ways the state can encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Assessing Minnesota's Economy; Evaluating State Spending

The Department of Human Services has garnered troubling headlines over the last months, prompting lawmakers to review how that agency, and other agencies, are spending taxpayer money. Senate Finance Chair Julie Rosen joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to offer her assessment of the budget forecast and what steps lawmakers can take to ensure fiscal integrity among state agencies.

The recent state budget and economic forecast shows Minnesota with a projected $1.3 billion dollar surplus at the end of the current two year budget cycle. The good news results from the state economic projection, and Dr. Laura Kalambokidis, the State Economist, joins Shannon to explain the latest economic trends.

Also in the program, the Senate DFL Caucus announces the formation of a new climate change caucus, and Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead presents her 90-day review of the department.

Human Services Commissioner Presents 90-Day Review

Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead presented her 90-day review of the department to members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, December 10. Harpstead was appointed by Governor Tim Walz with the charge of addressing various departmental problems, including overpayments of federal funds to Indian tribes and counties for combatting addiction; payments of fraudulent child care assistance claims; and the resignations of key departmental personnel.

According to Harpstead, the Department of Human Services is "not in a free fall, in crisis, in total chaos." She explained that the total amount of inappropriate payments over the past six years totaled $106.5 million dollars, or .1 percent of the $96.1 billion dollars of payments made. She said the department will attempt to recoup the money and that process controls have been implemented, "because every dime matters."

In addition to continuing their oversight of the department, committee chair Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said that she will begin the work of examining a possible breakup of the agency by reviewing a 2013 report issued by Minnesota Management and Budget on the department's restructuring.

Senate DFL Creates Caucus to Address Climate Change

DFL Senators announced the creation of a new Clean Energy & Climate Caucus, which piggybacks on efforts by Governor Tim Walz with the recently formed Climate Subcabinet and the House DFL Climate Action Caucus established in September. Senate DFL members appeared before the media at a State Capitol press conference Tuesday, December 10.

Senator Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, chair of the 29-member group, said the caucus goals include the promotion of hearings on legislation that will address clean energy and climate change, advocacy for clean energy proponents and businesses and the advancement of science-based evidence. The new caucus plans to hold public listening sessions around the state to learn more from Minnesotans concerned about how the changing climate is affecting regions and livelihoods, according to Frentz.

Noting that the Senate DFL has struggled to get bills heard in committee in the Republican-led Senate, Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, hopes that the formation of this caucus will encourage the majority to schedule hearings on clean energy proposals. “We’ve seen thousands of people come to the Capitol over the last legislative session urging us to make this issue a priority,” he said. “And as I personally reflect on it, I’ve thought about the fact that the future’s really not mine. But the future does belong to my grandchildren.”

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Presenting 'Vision 2020' Agenda, Reducing Prescription Drug Prices