HHS bill: Though destined for a veto, the House and Senate Tuesday both passed an omnibus health and human services bill that cleared conference committee a day earlier.
The $14 billion package chops nearly $482.5 million from projected HHS spending in 2018-19. It passed in the House 76-56; it cleared the Senate 34-33.
Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the bill’s House author, pointed to several provisions that he thinks are of interest to attorneys.
- A repeal of MNsure, the state’s online health exchange. The bill would transition state residents to a federal exchange for health insurance coverage beginning on Jan. 1, 2019.
- A special open enrollment period within the individual insurance market for qualified small employers. Small law firms are well positioned to take advantage of this measure, Dean said.
- A provision allowing the Human Services commissioner to waive current requirements on health care providers to contract with third-party administrators, if the provider demonstrates capacity for performing all administrative services on its own.
On the House floor Tuesday, Dean said his bill funds services for disabled and abused children, adults with developmental disabilities and people struggling with opioid and alcohol addictions.
He touted its nearly half-billion-dollar in savings, adding that he would prefer it cut even deeper. “We can’t afford to have the Health and Human Services budget grow at such a rate that it eclipses everything,” Dean said.
Democrats were less enthusiastic. Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, complained that the conference committee lacked input from the public and the Human Services Department.
“The actions of the Republicans show that they are not serious about an open and public process,” Schultz said. “They are not serious about compromising.”
Others called the bill “reprehensible” and “infuriating,” and accused Republicans of “complete indifference to desperate parents.”
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said Wednesday his DFL colleagues are passionate about human services. “We are dealing with the neediest of the needy and those are the sickest of the sick—and those are the folks we take care of in the bill,” Davids said. “Of course, on the DFL side, you can never put enough in.”
Davids, GOP Taxes Committee chair, acknowledged that the bill will be vetoed along with all of the GOP’s other finance bills. He noted that Gov. Mark Dayton planned to leave town Friday for the weekend fishing opener in St. Cloud, without reengaging Republicans in negotiations.
Davids accused the governor of running out the clock so that he can pressure Republicans to bend to his will at session’s end.
“He doesn’t know who he is dealing with,” Davids said. “He doesn’t seem to understand that we are not going to play his game. If the governor wants to shut the state down again like he did in 2011, that’s up to him. We are doing our job.”
Dayton said that Thursday that he planned to issue veto letters Friday morning for the human services omnibus and the other bills—agriculture, state government operations, environment and “E12” education—that currently sit on his desk.
Female mutilation: A bill moving through the House could impose big penalties on both parents and practitioners who participate in the gruesome act of female genital mutilation.
The bill, authored by Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, addressed only parents when it passed the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance committee on Monday.
On Wednesday, it was amended in the Health and Human Services Reform committee to add harsher criminal penalties against any person who performs the procedure.
While the act is already illegal in Minnesota, Franson said she was moved to submit the bill after reports that two little girls from Minneapolis were transported by their parents to Michigan in February. There the sexually mutilating procedure was performed on them.
Later, according to Franson, at least one child was returned to her parents. “That’s when realized that Minnesota law is silent on the parents wanting this done to their children,” she said.
Farhio Khalif, a Twin Cities women’s advocate, testified that community elders in Somalia cut her when she was about 8 years old. To prevent her from escaping from the home-rendered surgery, she said, they tied her down by her hands and feet.
“For weeks, I had visits from tribal members and elders who gave me rewards, money and good food and sweets, telling me what a good girl I was not to run away after this happened to me,” she said.
Mutilation is meant to discourage girls from having sex before marriage, Khalif said. It left her with lifelong complications, she testified.
Fadumo Abdinur, president of the immigrant advocacy group Tasho Community, also endured the procedure, causing dangerous infections during pregnancies.
She said that if passed the law would communicate to mothers from countries where female mutilation is common that it cannot be done in Minnesota. Nor could mothers go back to Africa and return after having it done and escape repercussions, she said.
Depending on the severity of harm, the bill could bring up to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine, or as little as five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
The bill would add female mutilation to the list of violations that trigger a child protective services investigation, possibly costing parents custody of all their children. It would also classify it as maltreatment that must be reported by mandatory reporters.
Demonstrators, unmasked: Another bill to increase penalties against political demonstrators has been introduced in the Minnesota House.
House File 2658 would increase penalties against people who show up at rallies wearing masks to conceal their identities.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said he wrote the bill after seeing a group of people show up early for a planned May 6 Capitol rally in support of President Donald Trump.
From his office window, Dean said, he watched a group of people arrive early and put on masks. That group then aggressively blocked access to the Capitol to pro-Trump supporters, he said.
“Clearly, the group that showed up early was there to intimidate, to fight and to prevent people from entering the building,” Dean said. “They were largely successful.”
It is already illegal for demonstrators to cause mayhem or riot at rallies while concealing their identities, but like advocates of earlier protester-penalty bills, Dean said the existing penalties are too lenient to act as a deterrent.
Just as do bills to prevent protesters from blocking freeways and airports, the Dean bill would increase penalties for identity concealers from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison. It makes exceptions for rally-goers who cover their faces for religious reasons or because of sub-zero temperatures.
It was introduced May 10 and referred to the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance committee. As yet, it has no Senate companion.