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Minnesota Legislature

Improving Health Care and Mental Health Services

Two health care related bills unanimously passed the Senate last week – one to license and regulate Pharmacy Benefit Managers and the other to allow direct primary care services between patients and physicians. Senator Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to talk about efforts to bring more transparency and access to health care.

According to Governor Walz's budget blueprint, his proposed health care reform, ONECare MN, would offer "health coverage options, encourage stability in the individual market, provide consumer choice, address rising health-care costs and improve the health care experience for all Minnesotans." Senator Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, is the Senate author of the legislation, and he joins Shannon to talk about the proposal.

Also, The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that one in five adults experiences mental illness in a given year, and a recent Pew Research survey reports that seven in ten teens say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, talks with Shannon about SF 1, a bill providing different approaches to addressing the problem.

'Hands Free' Bill Signed Into Law

Beginning August 1, Minnesota drivers will no longer be able to hold their cell phones while driving, according to a bill signed into law Friday, April 12, by Governor Tim Walz.

The new law requires drivers to use their cell phone in a hands-free manner for voice activated calls. Texting is currently illegal, and using a cell phone for navigation or music would be allowed if used without holding the phone, typing or scrolling.

The penalty for violating the law is a gross misdemeanor, which carries a $50 fine for the first violation and a $275 fine for subsequent violations. The new law does not apply to drivers in vehicles legally parked outside of traffic or for emergency calls.

DFL Leaders Call for Hearings on DFL-Sponsored Bills

With just weeks to go in the 2019 legislative session to complete a two-year balanced budget, DFL leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives called a press conference Thursday, April 11, to press the Republican-controlled Senate to have committee hearings on DFL-sponsored measures like Paid Family Leave, increased education spending and Governor Walz’s OneCare proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, expressed concern over the Senate’s ability to participate in upcoming conference committees. “The challenge comes when bills don’t get heard, and the other side brings them to conference. The one body knows nothing about the provisions, because there’s been no public hearing, no public testimony by anybody, our Senate council hasn’t worked on the provisions,” he said.

Legislative leaders have set the goal of having the major finance bills sent to conference committees by May 1.

Department of Human Services Data Breach Results in Legislative Warning

Another data breach at the Department of Human Services prompted Senate Human Services chair Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, to warn state administration officials that future IT funding will be withheld until a plan is implemented that ensures the security of the agency’s systems and programs. Benson spoke about her concerns at a State Capitol press conference Wednesday, April 10.

According to Benson, the three incidences in the last year, in addition to other technology-related problems dating back to 2013, raise concerns among key lawmakers as to the agency’s ability to handle their current workload, let alone proposals like Governor Walz’s OneCare that would expand the offerings of the department. After listing a series of unanswered questions, Benson called on DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey to “provide a full accounting… to show the public what he’s doing to mitigate these problems going forward.”

Judiciary and Public Safety Budget Plan Advances

On a party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would provide two-year funding for the judiciary and public safety agencies and programs. The plan, SF 802, sponsored by Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, would provide an additional $25 million to base spending as compared to Governor Walz's proposed $224.5 million dollar increase.

With members from both parties expressing disappointment over the size of the funding package, committee members rejected amendments to add more funds to hire correctional officers, strengthen public safety efforts or expand human rights services throughout the state. Chair Limmer explained to committee members that he is open to further discussions with the House and Governor Walz about shaping a plan that better meets the growing demand for public safety services.

The bill was sent to the full Finance Committee for further review.

Bill Raising Penalties for Distracting Driving Violations Clears Senate

Drivers who cause accidents while on their cell phones would face much stiffer penalties should they cause an accident, under a proposal passed by the Senate Monday, April 8. Sponsored by Senator David Osmek, R-Mound, the bill raises penalties for distracted driving and texting while driving, and it also launches an informational effort to discourage distracted driving.

For texting while driving, the bill establishes a mandatory $150 fine for a first offense, a $300 fine for a second offense and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense.

Negligent operation of a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device in any manner other than in hands-free mode would result in penalties ranging from a gross misdemeanor to a ten-year felony depending on the harm caused.