With the arrival of the New Year, the 2018 legislative session looms large in the front of legislators and advocates. The session, scheduled to start on February 20, promises to be chaotic and likely acrimonious.
The 2017 legislative session ended with the Governor line item vetoing the funding for the Legislature over a conflict over tax cuts, and that disagreement is likely to leave a mark on the 2018 session.
Senate President in Question
Further complicating the session’s trajectory is the status of the Lt. Governor. Senator Franken’s resignation in early January set in motion a series of events that led to Senate President Michelle Fischbach – a Republican – being elevated to Lt. Governor under Governor Dayton – a Democrat.
Senate DFLers have argued that an individual cannot serve in both the executive and legislative branches and have sought to remove her from the Senate. If forced to resign her Senate seat, the Senate’s partisan split would be 33-33. Under Senate rules, 34 votes are needed to pass legislation rather than a majority of members present. The results of a deadlock are hard to predict, though it may lead to gridlock, or alternatively, some bipartisan agreements. This issue is certain to be headed to the courts.
As is often the case, Minnesota’s legislative session will be shaped by action in Washington, D.C. The passage of a tax bill in D.C. will have enormous impact at the Capitol. Legislative Republicans are likely to seek to pass a “tax conformity bill” to bring Minnesota’s tax laws into alignment with the federal tax code. Such a bill will likely have a significant price tag, and many in the health care advocacy community are concerned that offsets to pay for the tax bill may require cuts to state spending. All too often, those cuts have come at the expense of health programming for the state’s most vulnerable.
A deal to end the federal government’s partial shutdown earlier this year brought good news in the form of a six year extension of CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) a federal program that provides funding for health care coverage for children. This action will relieve some pressure on the state’s budget and ensure continued coverage for children in low-income households.
The MNAAP Policy Committee has met twice in preparation for the session. The group has studied the political landscape at the Capitol, and has closely reviewed the results of a poll of MNAAP members asking for their thoughts on which issues the chapter should prioritize.
Mirroring the results of the poll, members of the Policy Committee have focused upon preserving and expanding access to affordable health care, promoting health equity, and investing in prenatal to five initiatives. The group presented its recommendations for legislative priorities to the MNAAP Board on February 7.
The group also discussed different tools to use to influence legislators and the debate in St. Paul. The MNAAP’s “Pediatricians Day at the Capitol” is a critical piece of our advocacy efforts, and is set for March 7 this year. Register now at www.mnaap.org
Taking a cue from the MNAAP’s resident and young physician leaders, the chapter will work to amplify our voice through the use of social media. Tools like Twitter can be enormously impactful at the Capitol. As I often joke, the only people more interested in Twitter than millennials are legislators. A remarkable number of legislators use Twitter, and “tweeting” at them can be a fantastic way to capture their attention.
We live in a very challenging political climate, both in St. Paul and Washington, DC. Now, more than ever, pediatricians should use their voice to speak on behalf of children.