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Governor Walz, DFLers Call for Public Hearings on Insulin Affordability

Saying that a self-imposed 30-day deadline had passed for state legislators to reach an agreement on an insulin affordability plan, Governor Tim Walz called upon leaders to move their private discussions into public hearings in hopes of finalizing a proposal for special session action. Walz spoke to the media Monday, November 18.

"A hearing is very different than a negotiation," Walz said. "A hearing allows us to bring in advocates, to bring in experts, to hear different sides of the concern right now is that we've fallen over these thirty days a little bit into camps again, and it's time to break from that."

Following the governor's press conference, DFL lawmakers--Representative Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, and Senator Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington--met with the media to reinforce Walz's call for public meetings. "A public hearing would provide transparency and help us move forward in the most productive manner," said Wiklund. "This can't wait any longer. Together, we can find a solution that includes ideas from the House and the Senate as well as advocates, and that includes DFLers and Republicans alike."

Senator Pratt released a statement, saying "We know this issue is urgent, so I am calling for a meeting this week. We will continue to collaborate with the members of the working group and interested parties."

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles Appointed to New Six Year Term

On a voice vote Friday, November, 15, the Legislative Audit Commission appointed Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles to another six year term. Nobles first assumed the role in 1983, and in recent months, has exercised oversight of several high-profile audits, including the unauthorized payments to Minnesota Indian Tribes for self-administered opioid treatments; mismanagement of the state's vehicle registration and licensing system (MNLARS); and fraudulent claims in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

The commission also approved the appointments of Christopher Buse as Deputy Legislative Auditor for the Financial Audit Division and Judy Randall as Deputy Legislative Auditor for the Program Evaluation Division.

Nobles' reappointment was opposed by Representative Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, who cited systemic management and financial problems in state agencies over the past several years that should have been identified by the auditor. She also expressed concern over media reports featuring Nobles' comments on recent audits. "I'm concerned that the auditor's interest in the use of publicity to promote the visibility of the office of the auditor, and the auditor himself, is interfering with [the office's] independence."

In support of Noble's reappointment, Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said that the office " not broken. In fact, it is functioning very well." She added, "Sometimes the [audit] report itself generates media. My gosh, it's the result of the report..."

Curbing Youth Access to Tobacco Products, Compensating College Athletes

The trend of declining youth tobacco use has reversed with the rise in vaping and flavored products. Today, according to the Pioneer Press, five million kids in the United States are addicted to e-cigarettes. Senator Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to talk about legislation, with bipartisan support, to curb youth access to tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, by banning kid-friendly vaping flavors and raising the age to purchase tobacco products to twenty-one.

Following California’s landmark new law that will allow student athletes in California to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness, Senator Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said that Minnesota should follow suit. He joins Shannon to explain the reasons why collegiate athletes should be allowed to earn money for their talents during their college years.

Also on the program, Paul Mandell, of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board, describes the history of Minnesota's World War II Memorial and recalls memories from the June, 2007, dedication ceremony.

Senate Finance Panel Dives Into State Contract Violations

A recent Star Tribune news report citing Department of Human Services' contract violations of over $50 million dollars grabbed the attention of state lawmakers, resulting in a Senate Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, November 13. Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, chair of the committee, began the meeting by citing similar violations among other agencies over the past year.

According to Eric Hallstrom of Minnesota Management and Budget, the state implemented financial controls through forms designed to ensure that money is encumbered and available for contracts to be issued upon proper approval. According to the Star Tribune report, state funds were issued without the necessary procedures being followed. In testifying before the committee, Alex Kotze, Chief Financial Officer of the Department Human Services, said that 242 of the agency's 21,886 transactions failed to follow the proper procedures. "Not that that's okay, but we are working really hard to fix this issue," she said.

"At some point, you just stop handing out money, and people pay attention," Senator Michele Benson, R-Ham Lake, said in urging state officials to enforce the state contract procedures. Senator Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, asked state officials, "What can be done differently to make sure that every Minnesotan knows that every dollar they send up here is spent like intended?"

Senator Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, acknowledged the low percentage of errors among the transactions and the work underway to tighten the contract and payment procedures. "I'm quite pleased that this kind of effort is taking place, the numbers are this small, and, in effect, no money was spent that wasn't allocated."

Senator Rosen said the committee will continue to examine the issue in the coming weeks. "We are collectively all going to work together to get some answers," she said.

Assessing the Welfare of Minnesota's Fish, Wildlife and Natural Resources

With the opening of the Minnesota deer hunting season and ice beginning to form on Minnesota's lakes, Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke gauges the health and welfare of Minnesota's game, fish and natural resources with two avid outdoorswomen, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chair Carrier Ruud.

Panel Nominates Legislative Auditor For New Six-Year Term

The Executive Committee of the Legislative Audit Commission nominated Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles for another 6 year term. Nobles leads an office that has conducted several high-profile audits in recent months, including the unauthorized payments to Minnesota Indian Tribes for self-administered opioid treatments; mismanagement of the state's vehicle registration and licensing system (MNLARS); and fraudulent claims in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

It was the news headlines and resulting statements by Nobles that raised the concern of Executive Committee member Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. "I am concerned about the level of what I would sometimes call editorializing in the way the reports are done," Liebling said. "...I really believe that the usefulness of the work of the staff is diminished by value judgements that are put into the reports," she explained.

Nobles said that he could have avoided using the word "dysfunction" when describing the problems at the Department of Human Services in issuing unauthorized payments to two state Indian tribes for self-administered opioid treatments. "Those were the words of the people who work there day-in and day-out used," he said. "I think the facts spoke to dysfunction, and that's what I called it. But, I didn't have to, and it wasn't seeking a headline, it was seeking your attention," he added.

The Executive Committee forwarded to the Legislative Audit Commission the recommendation to reappoint Nobles to another six-year term. In addition, Christopher Buse was nominated for Deputy Legislative Auditor for the Financial Audit Division, and Judy Randall was nominated for Deputy Legislative Auditor for the Program Evaluation Division.