At The Table – March 27, 2020

Minnesota Legislative Update: Lawmakers Pass Additional $330 million for COVID-19 Response

Thursday, the Minnesota Legislature approved an additional $330 million coronavirus aid package. The bill passed on a bipartisan 99-4 vote in the House and 67-0 vote in the Senate.

The new bill has a $200 million General Fund appropriation to create a COVID-19 Fund that the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) can draw upon to help state agencies respond to the outbreak. Childcare providers, food shelves, driver and vehicles services, homeless services, and small businesses will also receive additional assistance under the proposal. A COVID-19 Response Commission, made up of legislators and chairs of the House and Senate finance committees, will review expenditures greater than $1 million.

These funds followed two separate measures of $200 million and $21 million, bring the state’s total COVID-19 response to more than $550 million.

The bill largely came together outside the public view over the 10 days since the Legislature suspended in-person activity and moved to remote work. Throughout Thursday’s debate, both chambers took unprecedented measures to ensure they adhered to social distancing guidelines.

The 2020 Minnesota Legislative Session Before and After COVID-19

March is typically a busy time at the Minnesota State Capitol, as policymakers, staff, and advocates flood the Capitol to advance their legislative agendas .

Because of COVID-19, things will be different for the next month. Legislative leaders agreed to work by “alternative means” to encourage better social distancing, which means they are effectively in recess until April 14unless the speaker and senate majority leader agree to meet earlier.

To date, six bills have made it across the finish line, while several more partisan bills are currently in limbo. Before COVID-19, the following five topics were the focus of the legislature:

Economic Forecast

Minnesota’s economic forecast took a dramatic reversal in a few short weeks. Before the outbreak, Minnesota’s economic fundamentals were strong: unemployment was low and demand for workers were high. The state’s financial outlook remained stable when MMB released their February 2020 Budget and Economic Forecast, which included a projected surplus of $1.5 billion for the FY 2020-21 biennium. That was a $181 million increase over the November 2019 estimate.

Early indications from the governor indicated that short-term needs would be prioritized in anticipation of an eventual economic slowdown. COVID-19 brought the slowdown much sooner than anticipated, and now the Governor’s proposal leaves much of the surplus untouched or intended for emergency response.

Capital Investment

As 2020 is a “bonding year” by practice, the capital investment bill dominated discussion at the Legislature. The total value of submitted requests came in at $5.3 billion as, since 2020 is also an election year, each legislator hopes to bring something back for their district. Before COVID-19, the House speaker supported a robust bonding bill, while the House minority leader supported a proposal closer to $1 billion. The Senate majority leader said he is interested in passing a bill that is similar in size to past bills (less than $1 billion). The governor released a $2 billion proposal in January.

The legislative leaders stated they remain committed to passing a bipartisan capital investment bill. Medical Alley is meeting with members of the Capital Investment Committee to share our support for three projects.

Prescription Drugs

Over the interim, the Minnesota Attorney General formed a Task Force for Lowering Pharmaceutical Drug Prices. Several drug-pricing bills came out of this task force and were introduced this session, including a bill to create a prescription drug affordability commission, a bill to prohibit price gauging, and a bill to encourage the development of biosimilars. These bills have not received a hearing since the novel coronavirus came to Minnesota.

Insulin

A bipartisan House and Senate group met over the interim to discuss a state emergency insulin program. The group agreed a program is necessary, but differed on eligibility requirements, the extent of the supply for patients who qualify, and the role of drug manufacturers in the program. They did not come to an agreement over the interim, so the House and Senate each introduced and passed their own proposal in their respective legislative body. As both bodies opposed the bill that was sent over to them, a conference committee was called for the emergency insulin program in the final hours before the recess. Conferees are as follows:

House: Howard, Liebling, Albright, Neu, and Morrison

Senate: Jensen, Benson, Pratt, Rosen, and Wicklund

Labor Bills

Before we had the first case of COVID-19 in Minnesota, Paid Family Leave was again a key focus for the House DFL’s “Minnesota Values Agenda.” The House passed HF 5 (Halverson), which would allow employees paid leave for family or medical issues. This bill would establish an insurance program funded by employers and employees to allow employees to take paid leave. Employers can opt out if they provide an equal or better benefit. The Senate companion SF 1060 (Kent) is waiting for a hearing.

With COVID-19-related school and daycare closures, and the rise of the pandemic, these types of policies reentered the debate in a new light.

What can we expect now?

Legislative leaders agreed that any bill during the recess will focus on three things:

  • Legislation needed to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Legislation deemed “mission critical” to complete the work of the Legislature (e.g. the capital investment bill and the supplemental budget).
  • Any legislation with bipartisan agreement.

Given the tighter schedule and smaller budget, we can expect these categories to also define the bounds of post-recess discussion.

Governor Walz Signs Executive Order

Since Friday, March 14, Governor Walz signed a series of executive orders in response to the pandemic:

The governor’s “Stay at Home” executive order goes into effect Friday, March 27 at 11:59pm. While the order is yet another signal of the severity of this pandemic, it comes with a number of exemptions particularly relevant to our community. We continue to coordinate with the governor’s office to ensure the safe and effective continuation of the critical work you are doing. If you have questions about this order or how it will affect your business, please reach out to Bobby Patrick, VI, who can answer those questions for you or connect you with the right state resources.

Earlier this week, the governor issued Executive Order 20-16, directing non-hospital entities to inventory and preserve vital medical equipment during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. We have received several questions about this order, which the State of Minnesota was kind enough to answer for us. Get more detail on the order and who is exempt here.

Last week, Governor Walz announced Executive Order 20-09 which requires all elective surgeries and procedures, including dental care, to be postponed indefinitely. Governor Walz hopes this measure will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reserve medical supplies to address the pandemic. This executive order went into effect Monday. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued similar guidance.

Additionally, the governor issued an executive order deploying the Minnesota National Guard to aid in response to COVID-19. Their first responsibility is to transport personal protective equipment (“PPE”) from storage at Camp Ripley to the MDH warehouse in St. Paul. 

The Medical Alley Association continues to advocate on behalf of the health technology and care industry at the local, state, and federal level to ensure that this community’s expertise is being recognized and interests are being supported during this global crisis.

Call to Action: Medical Alley Resource Connect

We created Resource Connect to pair the outpouring of support from Medical Alley health technology companies with the technological needs of Minnesota’s healthcare providers. Whichever group you’re in, we hope you’ll fill out the form so we can match resources with needs and maximize the health and safety of everyone involved in the fight against COVID-19.

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