State and Federal Legislative Update: April 2, 2020

State Legislative Update

Governor to give State of the State address Sunday

Governor Tim Walz announced yesterday that he will give his State of the State address Sunday, April 5, from the Governor’s Residence. The address, which was originally scheduled on March 23, had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walz’s address will be live-streamed beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday evening HERE.

The address is usually given before the Minnesota Legislature, but during these unprecedented times, Walz will give the address from self-quarantine. “COVID-19 presents an unprecedented hardship to our state, but Minnesotans always rise to a challenge,” Walz said in a statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to speak directly to Minnesotans during this uncertain time.”

Minnesota Legislature begins remote hearing process

Yesterday, the House Rules committee held a brief remote hearing to discuss the remote committee process and approve House policies. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, chair of the committee, said that he is reluctant to meet remotely but said he doesn’t see any alternatives given the present circumstances. He said remote hearings should only be used under extreme circumstances and are not being considered beyond the current situation.

Majority Leader Winkler introduced Barry LaGrave, Director of House Public Information Services, who shared that the House will be able to make remote hearings available to the public in the future. He said the current circumstances only minimally have impacted how the meeting was covered from his office. Winkler said he expects other House divisions and committees to begin using remote hearings in the days and weeks to come.

Kelly Knight, Director of House Human Resources, also testified and discussed the emergency telecommuting policy and emergency sick leave policy for House members and staff, which the committee adopted by roll call. 

In the Senate, Minnesota Senate Republicans have created a bipartisan COVID-19 Response Working Group. The working group’s purpose will be to review and discuss the state’s response to COVID-19, and to vet requests by the Governor and proposals by the Legislature to address COVID-19 needs and resources. The working group will also review the previously passed funding and bills to provide oversight.

The working group will be chaired by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. Other members include: Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake; SenatorRoger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes; SenatorEric Pratt, R-Prior Lake; Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center; Senator Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury; Senator John Marty, DFL-Roseville; Senator Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis; Senator Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis; and Senator Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul.

“It’s clear these times call for focus and for speed. Establishing a working group gives the Senate a place to discuss the state’s current response and future needs,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “As a working group, there are no votes expected, rather it’s intent is to utilize online resources to make COVID-19 discussions available to the public. We hope to find opportunities for testimony from the public, expert witnesses, and document the engagement between Senators as we review bills and proposals to address the COVID-19 threat.” 

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent said about the working group, “As Minnesotans continue to advocate for critical supports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this much-needed working group will ensure public input, feedback, and transparency as the Legislature puts forth solutions.”

The COVID 19 Response Working Group met for the first time earlier this afternoon. The agenda consisted of health care expert testimony to discuss further needs in the health care industry. Senate Majority Leader Gazelka talked about his takeaways from the hearing, including help for rural hospitals, help for hospital workers and the necessary supplies for workers while they’re on the front lines, as well as what to do when someone in a long-term care facility has COVID-19 and how to make sure it doesn’t spread.

The Working Group meets again tomorrow, Friday, April 3 at 11 a.m. The agenda will include the economic impact of COVID-19, including how businesses are impacted. You may listen to the hearing HERE.

Minnesota health plans to waive COVID-19 related expenses

Over the past month, the Commissioners of Health and Commerce have been working with Minnesota’s health plans to be sure health coverage protects Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, and urging the health plans to remove barriers to coverage. Earlier today Governor Tim Walz announced that Minnesota’s health plans have agreed to waive cost-sharing for treatment of COVID-19. 

Minnesotans with commercial insurance, including individuals, small businesses, and some large businesses, are now eligible for the following benefits:

  • Minnesotans will have no cost-sharing charges for COVID testing
  • Minnesotans who are hospitalized will have no cost-sharing charges for in-network hospitalization
  • Minnesotans will have expanded access to telemedicine services.

Federal Legislative Update

Federal funding needed for higher education

American Council on Education (ACE) President Ted Mitchell sent a letter today on behalf of higher education associations to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Mitchell writes, “All colleges and universities are and will continue to be substantially and profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis is causing massive disruption to students, institutional operations, and institutional finances.”  

In the letter, President Mitchell urges the Department of Education to act quickly to make the CARES Act funds available to campuses and students. Mitchell also explains to Secretary DeVos that while higher education appreciates the significant sums the federal government has provided to combat the impact of COVID-19 on campuses across the country, the assistance included for students and institutions in the CARES Act is far below what is essential to respond to the financial disasters. The complete letter can be found HERE.

Minnesota State has joined ACE in working for additional federal funding to meet the needs of the institutions and students. Minnesota State sent a letter to the Minnesota Congressional Delegation thanking members for their ongoing support, and sharing with them that while the funding in the CARES Act will provide campuses and students the resources they desperately need at this time, they are concerned it won’t be enough to meet the upcoming demands.

Democrats outline proposal for next coronavirus package

Democrats in Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said the next coronavirus stimulus bill should include at least $760 billion over five years for water projects, broadband, and transportation, plus $10 billion for community health centers and more for housing and education, as a way to strengthen U.S. infrastructure and the economy. “We need to invest in our infrastructure to address some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the coronavirus,” Pelosi said Wednesday on a call with reporters.

The Speaker and other Democrats raised concerns Wednesday that the epidemic will exacerbate inequality, both in access to health care and in the ability of people to keep working or going to school while following social distancing guidelines. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said the virus response should focus on “equitable” recovery, unlike stimulus measures to respond to the 2008 recession and the Great Depression.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he was willing to work on a bipartisan response to the coronavirus, but added that the GOP would not support attempts to use the crisis to enact other priorities such as climate change controls or federally mandated election procedures. “As the legislation from the first three phases is implemented, Republicans stand ready to work across the aisle to support the individuals and institutions that will need more help in the fight against the virus,” McCarthy said in a statement.

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