Buck McAlpin, Legislative Consultant
Well I guess the saying goes, if you live long enough you see everything at the Minnesota State Legislature. The onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic put the legislature in a bizarre position to basically shut down all public access to the Capitol on roughly March 1st. For the first time in my lobbying career the usual face to face interaction with legislators quickly turned into phone calls, text messages and e-mails. The legislature worked quickly to set up safety zones within the House, Senate Chambers, and remote rooms to recognize social distancing while maintaining the integrity of the vote. The floor sessions have become very lengthy and painful to watch the process as they debate bills and introduce amendments.
The past Tuesday the Commissioner of Management and Budget released and updated the budget forecast after the closure of the entire State of Minnesota. Recently the legislature was working on the premise that the State had a nearly $1.5 billion-dollar surplus. The recent updated budget forecast now shows a State deficit of $2.4 billion looking out into the near future. With that in mind the state will obviously have a larger deficit as they come back into the 2021 legislative session after the 2020 November Election. Some estimates have the possible deficit at $5-$7 billion dollars.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously been the entire focus of the State legislature the last few months. One issue of extreme importance was the bi-partisan support to pass a COVID-19 emergency funding bill for Hospitals, Nursing Homes and Ambulance Services. The bill provided two opportunities to access the $200 million in funding to these providers. The first round was an initial $50 million-dollar grant process with a simple application to receive some funding for the initial preparedness work. Currently MDH is accepting applications for another $150 million of State money available for the same group for further preparedness and planning. I do believe this process established in Minnesota law will be the tool used to appropriate any Federal COVID-19 funding coming our way.
Another issue we have been working on is a COVID-19 liability bill that was introduced this week. Over the last few weeks efforts have been made to try and get the Governor to provide liability protection with an Executive order. That order has not been issued yet so the decision was made to introduce a bill. Obviously with one week left in session it will be extremely hard to move the bill through the committee process and pass the bill before the end of session on May 18th.
As we wrap up the 2020 legislative session and they adjourn constitutionally for the year, the only way they can come back is if the Governor calls them back into Special Session. As we look at the authority of the Governor, it’s clear to me that the legislature will most likely need to come back into a few Special sessions to address the issues around the budget deficit and extending the Governors authority under Executive Orders.
As we look ahead to the 2021 legislative session, I am positive that our focus as an Association will be to work on maintaining funding cuts that will impact our industry on the front lines. A large State deficit will only lead to desire to either raise taxes or make extreme cuts to Medical Assistance.
The 2020 election on a Federal and State level will really set the tone on how the policy will be set in 2021 to address the large deficits.