Minnesota Legislators were called to order on Friday, June 12, 2020, for a special legislative session. Because state law requires the legislature to be in session when the Governor wishes to either initiate or extend an existing peacetime emergency declaration, Governor Tim Walz called the legislature back to extend Minnesota’s peacetime emergency.
Usually, governors are hesitant to call special sessions without the agenda being agreed to ahead of time, with legislative leaders and the governor closely coordinating what bills will be considered. Pre-agreement on special session length or agenda has not been reached and further complicated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
Governor Walz and legislative leaders have indicated that they wish to tackle one of the major unfinished pieces of the regular session—passing a bonding bill to finance large capital projects in cities, in counties, in universities and on other public buildings and infrastructure. Bonding, unlike most other actions at the Capitol, requires a supermajority to pass, giving the minority parties in the House and Senate leverage to push for other, unrelated measures. House Republicans have indicated that they won’t support a bonding bill unless Governor Walz ends the peacetime emergency, while Senate DFLers have stressed that they will withhold support unless policing and criminal justice issues are addressed.
We are following these bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The first bill passed in the special session, Special Session Chapter 1, allocates more money from the federal CARES act to small businesses impacted by the pandemic (over $60 million, split evenly between the seven-county metro area and the rest of the state). The bill provides up to $10,000-grants to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees that can demonstrate financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. These grants will be administered through the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
- A second bill that is important to the MAFP is Special Session HF 105. This bill provides a timeline for many of the Department of Human Services waivers to state law that were adopted as part of Governor Walz’s emergency powers, once the peacetime emergency is over. Most important to the MAFP are the changes to telehealth that were adopted for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. According to HF 105, the changes that allow public programs to pay for telehealth services if the patient is at home and to cover phone visits at a similar rate to in-person visits will continue until at least June 30, 2021.
While nothing is moving yet in the special session, the MAFP believes it is critical that similar telehealth changes for commercial insurance coverage also continue. Because of the pandemic, clinics across the state have adopted telehealth services for many of their patients, and patients have fully embraced this change. Payment parity with in-person visits and the ability to treat patients in their home MUST continue.
The major issue that is leading to the uncertainty of the length and scope of the special session work is the response to the George Floyd murder. While there is a bipartisan desire to address policing techniques, there is not an agreement on how extensive the reforms are and how much they address the bigger issues of structural racism which has a direct impact on the health of Minnesotans.
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Author: Dave Renner, CAE, legislative rep, @daverenner