Senate DFL advances sound budget-balancing plan
On April 7, the Senate DFL passed a supplemental budget bill, along with legislation that closes the projected $160 million budget gap for the remainder of the biennium. Selected highlights of the Senate budget bill follow:...
On April 7, the Senate DFL passed a supplemental budget bill, along with legislation that closes the projected $160 million budget gap for the remainder of the biennium. Selected highlights of the Senate budget bill follow:
I'm pleased to be able to report that my legislation to create prescription drug bulk purchasing programs was included in the Senate supplemental budget bill. Such programs would allow Minnesota to obtain the lowest possible prescription drug prices for the state and its people. Health care coverage is vitally important to all of us, and we must seek comprehensive ways to ensure affordable access to health care insurance coverage and prescription drugs. While the House bill does not include the bulk purchasing programs, I believe that we have opportunities this session to make major progress on this issue if we can work in a bipartisan manner.
In a time when higher education has never been so important to job creation and economic recovery in Minnesota, the Senate DFL seeks a balance of fair funding and smart policy in our budget bill. The bill maintains the Senate DFL's core commitment to preserving choice and access to higher education while striving to help provide the well-trained workforce so vital to economic growth and vitality in the state.
Among the bill's provisions is one that I sponsored, directing the Higher Education Services Office (HESO) to renegotiate its reciprocity agreements with Wisconsin. The bill also includes a nursing school loan forgiveness program to encourage more students to go into nursing and fill the countless job openings in that growing field.
The Senate's supplemental budget bill does not adopt the governor's recommended education budget cuts. However, it does cut the Department of Education administration by $1.85 million and uses some of those funds to reinstate dollars for nutrition and pre-kindergarten programs in schools across Minnesota.
The bill is a step in the right direction for our schools. It doesn't cut funding as the governor and House do. Instead, it helps close the achievement gap by restoring nutrition funding cuts; providing funds for pre-kindergarten programs and achievement and technology grants; creating options to get out from under onerous No Child Left Behind mandates; and providing school bus loans to put unsafe buses out to pasture.
The budget bill contains provisions to make the state's forest industry more competitive. It creates a Forest Management Investment Account for timber sales receipts, and specifies the purposes for which it may be spent, including reforestation and timber stand improvement, and certain timber sales costs and costs of maintaining state forest roads.
Two new programs -- the Mercury Switch Program and the Video Terminal Display Recycling Program -- are good environmental initiatives. The bill creates a process for collecting mercury switches (trunk and hood light switches) from automobiles. It also sets up a system to recover and recycle household video display devices (old computers). These devices contain hazardous materials, and the intent is to keep them out of the waste stream.
Public safety, prisons
The Senate budget bill keeps serious sex offenders locked up much longer -- up to 60 years on a first offense and life without release for a second -- and imposes a new open-ended (indeterminate) sentencing system for repeat offenders. Additionally, the bill toughens penalties on meth manufacturers, and creates a fund to provide low-interest loans to local governments to clean up meth lab sites.
Among other things, the bill also funds more probation agents across the state to keep closer tabs on sex offenders; makes sex offenders submit to polygraphs as a condition of release; funds GPS bracelets to track and monitor the movements of sex offenders; restores the $750,000 cut last year from the Fire Marshal; and does away with the inspection fees on resorts, hotels and motels that were imposed last year.
Finally, the Senate budget bill contains the following health care provisions:
- Removes the $5,000 cap that had been imposed on MinnesotaCare and reinstates the dental benefits in the MNCare program.
- Opens MNCare to small employers.
- Removes farms from assets in determining MNCare eligibility.
- Strengthens laws against health care provider kickbacks.
- Requires pharmaceutical companies to report the true cost of prescription drugs.
- Repeals Medical Assistance and Alternative Care liens.
- Removes MFIP housing and SSI penalties.
- Lowers parental fees for parents of children with disabilities.
Yvonne Prettner Solon is the state senator in District 7, which includes most of Duluth. She may be reached by mail at 303 State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155-1606, by phone at (651) 296-4188or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .