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Minnesota Legislature

Senate GOP Unveils Insulin Assistance Program

Key Senate Republicans announced a plan to create an Insulin Patient Assistance Program at a State Capitol press conference Thursday, September 19.

Senator Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, stressed the need for a stopgap approach to the insulin affordability crisis until a long term solution is agreed upon. “This plan provides the resources to make insulin available to people struggling to afford it,” Pratt said. The proposal, if passed, could begin as early as January 1, 2020, and would cover individuals who earn up to four hundred percent of the federal poverty level who are not eligible for state and federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and MinnesotaCare. According to Pratt, manufacturers would provide the insulin free-of-charge to qualifying diabetics through their doctor, and patients would remain eligible for the program for one year.

The Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee will meet Monday, September 23, at 10:00 a.m. to review the language of the proposed program. To view the event, select the Senate Committees menu above.

Increasing Affordable Housing; Improving Driver and Vehicle Services

The Senate has formed a select committee to investigate the causes of, and propose solutions to, the high cost of home ownership across the state. Senator Kari Dziedzic a member of the committee, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to offer her perspective on possible actions to increase the availability of affordable housing in Minnesota.

Also on the program, the legislature has formed a committee to oversee the decommissioning of the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, often referred to as MNLARS, and the implementation of its replacement, the Vehicle Title and Registration System (VTRS). Co-chair of the committee, Senator Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, joins Shannon to provide an update on the new system's implementation and his confidence in improving driver and vehicle services.

Impact of Building Permit Fees on New Housing Costs Debated

Representatives from the housing industry and cities appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Home Ownership Affordability and Availability Tuesday, September 10, to comment on a report citing building permit fees as one factor driving the high cost of new home construction.

According to David Siegel of Housing First Minnesota, some cities are going beyond statutory requirements by directing revenue from building permit fees to general fund collections. "So what does that mean for homeowners? It means that homes are more expensive, sometimes $3,000 dollars more than they need to be," he said.

"It's not as simple as it has been presented," Irene Kao of the League of Minnesota Cities told legislators. She explained that cities have administrative, engineering and zoning expenses resulting from the new housing development that the building permit fees help cover.

For the complete committee video, select the Senate Committees menu above.

System to Replace MNLARS Remains On Schedule

State officials responsible for transferring the state's vehicle and registration system (MNLARS) to a newly purchased vehicle titling and registration system, referred to as VTRS, said the project is progressing as expected, according to testimony before a joint legislative commission Monday, September 9.

According to Tony Anderson of the Department of Public Safety, the state signed a $33.85 million dollar contract with Fast Enterprises, which currently services ten different jurisdictions. Anderson said the project will be handled in two phases, with the first phase being the replacement of MNLARS, including the title, registration and dealer management functions. Phase one will be deployed November 16, 2020. The second phase will be the replacement of the motor carrier functions, including the international fuel tax agreement and international registration plan.

The total replacement of MNLARS was agreed to by Governor Walz and key state lawmakers, including Senate Transportation Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, and House Transportation Chair Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis.

For the entire committee hearing video, please select the Senate Committees menu above.

Reforming the Dept. of Human Services; Demographic Changes

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has continued to garner unflattering headlines due to the sudden resignation of senior staff and violations for improperly using federal funds to bolster addiction recovery efforts. Senator Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to offer his assessment of the department as well as potential opportunities for agency reform.

Also on the program, demographic changes stemming from birth rates, an aging population, and immigration affect the economy as well as our legislative and congressional representation. Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower discusses Minnesota's readiness for the upcoming 2020 Census.

New Human Services Commissioner Addresses Senate Panel

Newly appointed Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead appeared before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday, September 4, describing her desire to improve agency operations and build trust with state legislators. Harpstead assumes the new role following the sudden resignations of key agency personnel and violations for improperly using federal funds to bolster addiction recovery efforts.

"I hope that you are empowered by the strength of the governor standing behind you to go in and execute, particularly, the audit and the systematic review of how funds are handled. That has been, I think, the most troubling and problematic to Minnesotans over the last several months," said committee chair Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.

In raising legislators' concern over the improper use of federal funds to help Indian tribes and other facilities address addiction, Senator Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, asked, "Who's going to pay the Feds back...there is this lingering bill coming to Minnesotans from overpayments..."

Harpstead responded, "I need to go and understand more thoroughly what possible pathways there are for us...and I don't completely yet understand what's possible, and we will want to be talking with all of you about that as we go forward."