The 2019 legislative session began with a crack of the Speaker’s gavel at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Families of members joined them for the traditional pomp and circumstance that mark the beginning of a legislative session.
Legislators returned to a different Capitol, with several new faces and personalities. The DFL bucked history and successfully held the governor’s office thanks to former U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s win. Even more surprising from many analysts’ perspectives, the House DFL flipped nearly 20 seats – many in the suburbs traditionally controlled by the GOP – to pick up control of the body. While state senators were not on the ballot this year (all 67 seats will be on the ballot in 2020) a single special election for a Senate seat was retained by the GOP and with it their one-vote majority.
Given that 2019 is the first year of the biennium, the major task before legislators this session will be consideration of a two-year biennial budget. The legislature’s task has been made a bit easier thanks to an expected budget surplus of nearly $1.5 billion. While an eye-popping figure and cause for cheer, legislators would be well served to note that the budget forecast does turn sour in subsequent years given anticipated spending increases and a cooling economy. The governor will be unveiling his budget proposal by mid-February, and the House and Senate will begin crafting their own versions shortly thereafter.
The scheduled repeal of the provider tax is likely to be the dominant health care debate at the Capitol in 2019. The provider tax, first levied in 1994, is a tax on the gross receipts of most health care providers and serves as the chief funding mechanism for Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare, and a number of other health care access and public health programs. Its sunset was the result of a budget agreement from 2011. Governor Walz and House Democrats are supportive of repealing the sunset, while Senate Republicans have generally indicated their opposition to any new revenue, including repeal of the sunset. Other health care advocates have proposed alternatives to the provider tax.
It’s also likely that Governor Walz and House DFLers will also press to allow more individuals to purchase MinnesotaCare, the state’s health insurance program for many low-income Minnesotans.
The Senate GOP has been quite skeptical of these proposals in recent years.
With input from MNAAP committees, survey results from polling of members, the political climate at the Capitol, and the chapter’s historical positions on various issues, the MNAAP board has selected four priorities for the 2019 session:
Reducing gun violence. Far too many Minnesotans have been impacted by firearm violence, and yet even common sense measures have been difficult to enact. MNAAP will continue its vocal support for expanded background checks, “red flag” laws to allow law enforcement authority to seize guns if the gun owner has been acting suspiciously, and expanded public health research into gun-related violence.
Extending the provider tax. Preserving and expanding access to care has been a central priority for MNAAP for decades. To that end, MNAAP opposes the sunset of the provider tax unless a viable alternative can be found.
Strengthening Minnesota’s vaccine laws. Minnesota’s vaccine laws are among the weakest in the nation. As such, MNAAP will work with partners to strengthen our immunization laws and ensure parents have access to medically accurate information.
Increasing behavioral health care access. All too often, pediatricians and families alike are struggling to find resources to help children with mental illness. MNAAP will partner with allies across the Capitol to support efforts to expand access to these critical services.
While MNAAP has identified four legislative priorities, the chapter will be engaged on dozens of issues. Efforts to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 have been successful in cities and counties across the state, and advocates – including MNAAP – will be lobbying for a statewide law increasing the age. MNAAP will also work closely with others to invest in efforts to invest in early brain development, as well as supporting a growing coalition formed to prohibit the use of “conversion therapy” with LGBTQ youth and young people.
Pediatricians have exceptional credibility at the Capitol, and it’s imperative that you exercise your voice on behalf of the state’s most vulnerable young people. MNAAP’s goals for the 2019 session are bold, and our success will depend on an active and vocal chapter. Make plans to join the Pediatricians’ Day at the Capitol on March 6, send your elected officials an email or letter, or simply pick up the phone to let them know you’ll be watching how they vote on these critical issues.