Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week of March 8, 2009

PCA mercury study: The MPCA has just reported that mercury levels in walleye and northern pike have not been decreasing. In fact, mercury concentrations have been increasing.

Ramsey County groundwater study: The Ramsey Conservation District (formerly the Ramsey County Soil & Water Conservation District) has published its draft Ramsey County Groundwater Protection Plan. I attended a public meeting this week where staff presented its findings and recommendations. You can take a look at the link above. There are quite a few pretty cool maps in there.

Mental Health Ombudsman: The state has an ombudsman who provides oversight on mental health and developmental disabilities. We hear testimony from the head of this office when our Health Care & Human Services Policy & Oversight (HCHS) Committee has hearings on wrongful death or some other grievance issues. They have a web site with much helpful information. Most recently, we heard about how some mental health patients were given medication as part of clinical trials even though their families indicated that the medication was creating adverse effects, including one suicide. The ombudsman also told us about a useful federal web site that has a registry of current private and public clinical trials.

Is Your Doctor's Prescribing Information Private? We voted on a bill in the HCHS Committee this week that would prohibit the use of doctor's prescription data for marketing purposes. A nonprofit called The Prescription Project has been promoting legislation like this because it believes that the relationship between doctors and drug companies is too cozy. The Atlantic magazine had a good article on this issue in 2006. In effect, drug companies get data (although not patient data) from data-mining companies that compile information about what drugs doctors are prescribing. If a doctor is putting people on a competitor's drug, a company can start pushing their product with the doctor.

What are the fastest growing expenditures in the state budget? The legislature requires that the Department of Finance (now Minnesota Management and Budget) report on any programs that increase in size by more than 15% from one budget to another. The most recent report has just come out.

MN still pretty low in Medicare reimbursement costs: Minnesota has been pretty low on the national scale for Medicare spending per capita. In committee, I recently came across this very cool interactive map from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care.

Bills pulled: I was to have bill hearings on HF457 on anatomical bequests and HF500 about recycled water standards on Tuesday but I pulled the bills because they were really not ready yet. There was a lot of technical stuff that has to be worked out and we need to focus more on the budget, so I can work on these next year.

Tax Incidence Study: The Department of Revenue issued its annual report showing who pays how much taxes in Minnesota. This data gets used by both parties to prove their points in subsequent floor debates.

Schedule: On Monday, I attended a caucus meeting, a short floor session, and a meeting of the House Taxes Committee. Tuesday included the Taxes Committee (revenue forecast presentation by the state economist), two committee caucus meetings, an HCHS Committee meeting (the big bill was on prescription issues as mentioned above), and an Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee (used paint product stewardship program, greenhouse gas registry, and oversight of new dedicated outdoor and arts funding). On Wednesday, I was part of a small group meeting about mental health budget issues, the House Taxes Committee meeting (the 2009 Tax Incidence Study), a committee caucus meeting, an HCHS Committee meeting (about eight different bills), and a House DFL Caucus meeting. Thursday included a short floor session, a committee caucus meeting, an HCHS Committee meeting (about "welfare reform"), the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee (mostly a DNR technical bill and I chaired part of the meeting), and a public meeting of the Ramsey Conservation District about their new groundwater study (mentioned above). I also presented my homeowner warranty bill (HF239) to the Commerce Committee, and it passed quickly. Friday included a short Telecommunications Division meeting on three bills, and a House DFL Suburban Caucus meeting. I was supposed to present a bill about veterans and fishing licenses (HF1286) but I offered to be bumped off the agenda until next week since one bill took up most of the meeting. The bill was about granting veterans benefits for Hmong veterans who fought with U.S. troops in Laos. It was a very interesting but tense discussion.

Visitors: lobbyist and staff from Minnehaha Creek Watershed District about HF500 on recycled water standards; staff from MN Department of Health about HF500; Shoreview resident for mental health day on the hill; staff from NAMI-MN about mental health issues; organizer for Corporate Accountability International about their anti-bottled water campaign; staff from Anoka Conservation District about their programs; Sierra Club staff about sulfide mining bill; lobbyist and staff from Science Care about HF457 on whole body and tissue donations; staff from Richardson, Richter about Green Jobs Task Force; new President of Century College; Education Minnesota and Teachers Retirement Association lobbyists about teacher pension and health insurance issues; lobbyists for Manufactured Homes Association about HF356; staff from All Parks Alliance for Change about HF356; staff from Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR--they administer the lottery money for the outdoors) about their programs and the 2009 bill for project funding; lobbyist for Mdewankanton Sioux Community about gaming issues

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident about workers compensation initiatives; four district residents against Senate idea to tax legal services; four district residents against HF417 dealing with an insurance issue; two Shoreview residents about charitable gambling tax rates; Shoreview resident supporting closing the gun-show loophole; two district residents against decriminalization of medical marijuana; Shoreview resident urging that K-12 education be the state's top priority; Lino Lakes resident concerned about Senate proposal to cut K-12 education; Shoreview resident inquiring about property tax issue; Shoreview resident supporting HF1396 on domestic violence issues; about six district residents against "welfare reform" bills proposed by the GOP; Shoreview resident concerned about SF10 on bidding for school services; Shoreview resident about a green technology; about 25 postcards from district residents generated by a payday lending company in opposition to regulation of the payday lending industry; Shoreview resident supporting tough regulations on sulfide mining; Lexington resident supporting racino legislation; district resident and social worker against harsh health & human services cuts; Lexington resident about scope of practice legislation for athletic trainers; Shoreview resident against taxpayer money for a Vikings stadium, casinos or racinos, and puppy mills; three district residents sending identical e-mails generated by MN Rural Electrical Co-ops opposed to climate change legislation; Blaine resident about math standards in K-12; Lino Lakes resident against moratorium on cancer radiation facilities