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Legislative Update from Ben Lien

  • 17 Apr 2020
  • 5:00 PM
  • 24 Apr 2020
  • 11:30 PM


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Greetings from the Floor,

The House passed two bills and the conference committee report on insulin affordability this week. The bills were an additional response to COVID-19 and allowing restaurants to serve off-sale liquor with pick-up or to go orders (up to one bottle of wine or the equivalent of one six-pack of beer, hard seltzer or cider).  Here are details of the COVID-19 bill:

Article 1

  • establish remote voting by the Legislature into law
  • changes to law for wills
  • increase in grant funding to Second Harvest Heartland for $1.25 million for fiscal year 2020 to purchase and distribute surplus agricultural products
  • non-resident driver’s license extensions
  • interstate motor carriers’ medical examiner certificate extensions
  • commercial driver’s license variances
  • DOT and Met Council reports to the Legislature on use of temporary powers
  • authorizes the Met Council to use Federal Transit Administration dollars appropriated through the CARES Act
  • allow Medical Assistance coverage for COVID-19 testing
  • Department of Health temporary authority for variances
    • variances for new hospital construction and nursing home beds
    • use of state-funded grants for COVID-19 response
    • temporary healthcare facilities
  • allowance of Medical Assistance to cover services in temporary healthcare facilities
  • expansion of telemedicine to include telephone only services
    • mental health
    • respiratory care
  • suspension of court-imposed deadlines
  • extension to appeal child support cost-of-living adjustments
  • allowance for electronic marriage certificate applications
  • extension of Farmer-Lender Mediation services (150 days for new medication requests and 60 days for existing mediation requests)
  • Allows the Department of Revenue to not post businesses that are not up to date on remitting liquor taxes to the state (posting these businesses would prevent them from buying liquor from distributors).  This provision only applies to businesses subject to Gov. Walz’s closure orders. 

Article 2 Non-COVID 19 Policy

  • use of manufacturer’s suggested retail price instead of base value to calculate motor vehicle registration tax
  • allowance of coroners or medical examiners to use the criminal justice data communications network to assist in identifying unknown deceased people

Article 3 DHS Technical and Implementation Corrections

  • technical changes to rules and laws for withdrawal management and chemical treatment service providers
  • technical changes to DHS reporting of non-federal TANF expenditures
  • flexibility on the use of Emergency Service Grants to provide homeless populations with essential services and emergency shelter
  • $100,000 in FY 2020 for Certified Community Behavioral Health Center expansions

Article 4 Human Services Forecast Adjustments

  • changes to the budget forecast for the Department of Human Services
    • overall reduction of $190.5 million for the remainder of the 2020-2021 biennium

Details of the insulin affordability bill include:

  • no fees on manufacturers (manufacturers would reimburse pharmacies)
  • fines for manufacturers who do not meet the program’s demands ($200 K/month, $400 K/month, after 6 months, $600 K/month after 1 year)
  • $35 co-pays
  • sunset for the urgent-need program on 12/31/24
  • no health plan cost sharing caps
  • residency requirements for program participants
  • MNSure applications for assistance (also available at pharmacies and healthcare facilities; people can also apply directly through the manufacturer or contact a trained navigator for assistance)
  • urgent-need eligibility (no income threshold):
    • Minnesota resident
    • not enrolled in MA or MinnesotaCare
    • no prescription drug coverage that limits 30-day supply cost-sharing below $75
    • not received urgent-need supply through the program in the last 12 months
  • long-term eligibility:
    • Minnesota resident
    • below 400% of the federal poverty line
    • not enrolled in MA or MinnesotaCare
    • not eligible for federal prescription drug program (Medicaid Part D OK if the patient has spent $1,000 on prescription drugs in the current calendar year)
    • no prescription drug coverage that limits 30-day supply cost-sharing below $75
  • low cost insulin from manufacturers allows them to be exempted from the program
  • mandated manufacturer reporting to the Board of Pharmacy
  • Legislative Auditor review of the program (whether manufacturers are meeting their responsibilities of the program and if the navigator program is adequate)
  • Department of Health conducted patient survey
  • MNSure public awareness campaign for the program
  • requirement that health insurers notify enrollees when dependent-child coverage is about to end (when the child turns 26)


On Monday Gov. Walz extended the peacetime emergency until May 13.  This order does not extend the Stay at Home Order or the closure of bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation.  These orders are still scheduled to expire on May 4.  The extension of the peacetime order allows to governor to continue the preservation of Personal Protective Equipment, activation of the National Guard to assist with the state’s coronavirus response and give state agencies and departments variance authority on professional licenses (among other issues). 

Gov. Walz announced yesterday that he is working with other Midwest governors to get states’ economies open and working again.  He outlined four factors the governors will review when making decisions, of course these factors are not exhaustive:

  • sustained control of the rate of new infections and hospitalizations
  • enhanced ability to test and trace
  • sufficient health care capacity to handle resurgence
  • best practices for workplace social distancing

The governor cautioned that all aspects of the economy will not re-open at the same time, and different states, even within the same region, will take different steps at different times.  We have to do what’s best for Minnesota.  I applaud the nation’s governors for working together to come up with regional approaches that are best for each state.  Gov. Walz is continuing to prioritize the health and safety of Minnesotans.  Thus far, he’s based his decisions on the modeling his administration has made public (https://mn.gov/covid19/data/modeling.jsp) and guidance from health care facilities to maintain the number of available ICU beds in the state.

Today the governor issued Executive Order 20-38 to open more outdoor activities for Minnesotans.  These include live bait shops, outdoor shooting ranges and game farms, public/private parks and trails, golf courses, marina services, dock installation/other lake services, and boat/off-highway vehicle sales and repair by appointment.  To read the order, please go to: https://mn.gov/governor/assets/EO%2020-38%20Final_tcm1055-428887.pdf.

I know these are very difficult, unnerving times. It is times like these when we need to continue having patience and understanding with each other.  The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and we don’t have a playbook or strategy to use in navigating the situation.  We need to make the best decisions with the information we have as it becomes available. I know it is especially difficult for business owners who can’t open and people not able to go to work.  We will get through this.  Minnesota has been winning the fight against this virus (https://www.fox9.com/news/experts-explain-why-minnesota-has-the-nations-lowest-per-capita-covid-19-infection-rate). 

I firmly believe the measures we are taking have led to lower than projected numbers of illness and death in Minnesota (and even at the numbers we’ve seen, 1/3 of our ICU beds are full with coronavirus patients).  We can’t let up.  Not everyone is comfortable about a rush to re-open the economy, and we can’t allow a surge of COVID-19 cases when more businesses are able to resume operations.  The one certainty that’s going to re-open the economy is for people to feel safe about going out to eat, going to church or seeing a ball game again.  We need to be smart and careful as we move forward, and not jeopardize the gains we’ve made.Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,


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