Legislative Update: 1/7/11


And they’re off…

On Monday January 3, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton was sworn in as Minnesota’s 40th governor.  Governor Dayton is the first DFLer to hold the office since Rudy Perpich’s term ended in 1991.  Gov. Dayton was sworn in along with the state’s other Constitutional officers, Attorney General Lori Swanson, Secretary of State Mark Riche, and State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

The 2011 Minnesota Legislative Session kicked off on Tuesday, January 4, 2011, ushering in historic changes.  For the first time since Senate candidates began running under partisan labels, the Minnesota Senate will now be controlled by the Republicans.  The Minnesota House of Representatives also returned to GOP control for the first time since 2006.  The incoming Senate Majority Leader is Senator Amy Koch (R; Buffalo) and the new Speaker of the House is Representative Kurt Zellers (R; Maple Grove).  Of the 201 legislators, 60 are newly elected, a remarkably high percentage.

For the first time in Minnesota’s history, we have a new Speaker of the House, a new Majority Leader of the Senate, and a new Governor, all in the same year.

With the change in partisan control of both the House and Senate, much has changed with both the structure and composition of House and Senate committees.  Both bodies saw the number of committees shrink dramatically, most notably in the Senate.  The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is to be chaired by Senator David Hann (R; Eden Prairie), while health care jurisdiction in the House will be shared by Rep. Jim Abeler (R; Anoka) who will handle HHS Finance, and Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R; St. Cloud), the new chairman of the HHS Reform Committee.

Peds Day at the Capitol Set for February 15

Building relationships with elected officials has never been more important.  With a state budget deficit of $6.2 billion and 60 new legislators, communicating with those who will be making the decisions at the Legislature is critical to promoting children’s health and well being.  MN-AAP’s annual “Day at the Capitol” is a terrific way to do just that.  We’ve invited key legislators and opinion makers to address the group and we’ll arrange for you to meet with your own legislators, too.  This is a terrific way to add your voice to the MN-AAP chorus at the Capitol.

Mark your calendars for February 15 and plan to join us for this important event.  Stay tuned for additional details very soon!

Early Medicaid Enrollment

The biggest health care news of the week was Governor Dayton’s signature on an executive order that will usher in significant changes in the number of low income Minnesotans eligible for the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medical Assistance (MA).   With the Governor’s authorization, up to 95,000 individuals will be eligible for the joint state-federal program, replacing the state’s General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program and expanding care for others presently covered under MinnesotaCare.

The changes were made possible by the federal health care reforms passed in 2010, and were the subject of much debate during both last year’s legislative session and gubernatorial campaign.  Former Governor Pawlenty opposed the expansion, arguing that it was too expensive to the state and that the future of the program is in doubt due to growing federal debt.  Governor Dayton was committed to the expansion, noting that it would add significant federal investment into health care presently being paid for with state dollars only, while also expanding health care coverage.  It is unclear when the new program will be operational, and some officials at the Department of Human Services have suggested it could take up to nine months to begin enrollment.  Governor Dayton and some legislative leaders have responded that such a lengthy delay is unacceptable.

The Governor’s announcement of the expansion made for fascinating political theater at the Capitol as the Governor’s office was packed with both supporters and opponents of the move.  Saying that the Governor’s reception room was “the people’s room,” Governor Dayton invited both proponents and opponents to speak to the crowd and media before signing the order to both cheers and jeers.

New Physician Commissioner at MN Department of Health

Ed Ehlinger, MD, MSPH, a pediatrician and internist, has been appointed commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) by Gov. Mark Dayton.  Ehlinger has been the director and chief medical officer of the University of Minnesota’s Boyton Health Service since 1995 and spent 15 years working for MDH prior to his time at the University of Minnesota.  Additionally, he is the immediate past president of the Twin Cities Medical Society and has served as chair of the MMA’s public health committee.  With the Commissioner of Health serving as the state’s chief public health officer, it is good to see a physician in that role.  Ehlinger replaces Sanne Magnan, MD.

Joint HHS Finance and HHS Reform Meeting

The committees got to work quickly with a joint meeting of the two House health care committees holding a four-hour informational hearing on Wednesday January 5.  This hearing was the first of many for the many new members of the House.  Representatives from the Department of Human Services provided an overview of the DHS budget, highlighting where most of the money is spent.  The challenge before the legislature is that nearly 30 percent of the state’s budget is spent in the HHS area and most of that is spent on nursing homes and the disabled.

Upcoming weeks

Given the 60 new members of the Legislature, many predict a slow start to the session as new committee chairs craft their agendas and become acclimated to their new roles.  Many committees will continue to meet to offer informational hearings to new members and staff prior to beginning hearings on bills.  That said, a number of significant proposals are likely to come forward soon, including education reform and new budgeting proposals.

Legislative Contacts

For those of you that want to more closely follow the actions of the Minnesota Legislature please find below links to the Legislature’s website.  There are committee schedules, weekly newsletters, contact information for legislators, and a “Legislative Finder” to help you find out who your legislator is.

Minnesota Senate

Minnesota House

Annual Sponsors

Children's Minnesota
Gillette Children's
Hennepin Healthcare
University of Minnesota Health
Essentia Health
Mayo Clinic
Shriners Healthcare for Children-Twin Cities