The 2021 legislative session started this year on Jan. 5 and is scheduled to meet through the third week in May. Once again, Minnesota holds the distinction of having the only legislature in the country with split control. The House of Representatives remains in DFL control with a 70-64 majority and the Senate remains in Republican control with a 34-31-2 majority. (There are two Independent members who are caucusing with the Republicans).
Adding to the challenge of working together and passing bills is the fact that both bodies are starting the session by only having virtual hearings. The Capital and House and Senate office buildings are closed to the public. That may change as the session goes on, with the Senate announcing they want to move to hybrid hearings as quickly as possible.
This being the odd-numbered year, the Legislature has one task it must complete. They are required to pass a balanced budget for the next two-year period before they adjourn in May. That will require leaders from both bodies, along with Gov. Tim Walz, reaching a budget agreement.
The first step of that process happened on Jan. 26 when Gov. Walz released his budget recommendations. His recommendations were based on the November 2020 budget forecast that projected the state to have a $1.3 billion deficit. The governor’s recommendations included a combination of tax increases, program spending cuts, and use of the state’s budget reserve fund.
However, an updated budget forecast reported at the end of February showed an improvement in the budget picture with a $1.6 billion surplus. The Legislature will use these updated budget numbers to develop their recommendations that will be passed in mid-April. The final month of the session will be where the final negotiations happen to reach agreement.
MNAAP has developed legislative priorities designed to advocate on behalf of our patients:
We will be strongly working to preserve access to health care and social services for our state’s children, particularly those who are underserved, and will vigorously oppose cuts to funding or changes in eligibility. MNAAP supports early education programs that provide early education, nurse home visiting, and other social support services that serve a high proportion of minority and underserved children.
We will be promoting continued coverage for telehealth services throughout the state, including supporting broadband services across the state. MNAAP supports efforts to ensure that all children and families have access to high-speed internet for telehealth services to support their physical health and mental health, and for education needs. The MNAAP further supports payment parity for services delivered via telehealth to a patient in their home, as well as care delivered by telephone only (when clinically appropriate).
We must increase our vaccination rates by reducing barriers to immunizations. One of the biggest barriers is the growing use of “personal belief exemptions” by parents who do not want their children vaccinated.
We will be working to protect children from firearm violence. MNAAP supports commonsense gun laws to protect children – including universal background checks and red flag laws – which are supported the majority of Minnesotans.
This is an aggressive set of priorities that will require pediatricians across the state to engage and advocate with their own legislators. We will be working to make sure every legislator understands how important these issues are to improve the lives of our youngest Minnesotans. We need your help. Join us.