Wednesday, December 23, 2009

November-December 2009 Update

Greetings! With the holidays I haven't updated this in a while. Here's a summary of my November and December activities.

I'll start by including this campaign flyer for my grandfather that I just unearthed from a box. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in (I think) 1916 as a Democrat. He and his father were supporters of William Jennings Bryan during the progressive era. His father had been a legislator for one term in 1884 on the "Greenbacker" ticket.

Hearings and committee meetings: The Health Care & Human Services Policy Committee (HCHS) met several times. One was on the redesign of State Operated Services (SOS). SOS includes health care facilities run by the Department of Human Services (DHS) primarily for people with mental illness and chemical dependency issues. DHS is undertaking a re-design to maximize the use of its existing beds in the state and to help save money.

We also had a hearing on different proposals for salvaging the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program that serves about 33,000 Minnesotans who don't have insurance coverage and who have assets of less than $8,000. About 30% of this population is homeless and around 70% have either a mental health issue or chemical dependency issue, or both. In short, most people in GAMC are not able to function on their own. The Governor made a line-item veto of this program for fiscal year 2011 and then unalloted the program for March to June 2010. Advocates for GAMC have made serving this population a top priority. My colleague Rep. Erin Murphy and Sen. Linda Berglin have proposed an alternative that would increase a surcharge on hospitals that would then leverage matching federal funds. This would salvage GAMC to a degree and return some money to the general fund to help balance the budget. My Republican colleague Rep. Matt Dean has another proposal to have who I would call more high-functioning people on GAMC put on Minnesota Care and then use dollars from the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF) to fund the people who really need additional guidance. Money for the HCAF comes from a 2% health care provider tax--doctors often call it the "sick tax" because you only pay it when you go to the doctor. HCAF dollars pay for Minnesota Care, which serves Minnesotans who have jobs but don't have health coverage. Neither proposal is perfect--rural hospitals are not liking the idea of a higher surcharge to fund what is mostly a metro area issue, and putting GAMC patients on Minnesota Care will deplete the HCAF a lot quicker than expected.

A summary of Minnesota's health care programs is at the DHS web site.

On December 22nd, I participated in a reading of names of those on GAMC with local volunteers from Take Action Minnesota at the Shoreview Community Center.

Environmental Committees: The Environmental Finance Committee met to hear from the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the DNR about various issues. I sat in on the oversight hearing dealing with "total maximum daily load" (or TDML) compliance. The MPCA must test all waters in the state every ten years for a variety of pollutants. Pollutants that exceed the TDML for a particular watershed will put that watershed into "non-compliance" and trigger a variety of government action. Of chief concern is that the Lake Pepin watershed continues to be non-compliant. The good news is that metro area residents have already paid for significant improvements to the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant at Pigs Eye to reduce the amount of major pollutants going back into the Mississippi. The bad news is that the Minnesota River continues to be a major problem. One issue I brought up at the hearing was that Minnesota's TDML data is not particularly user-friendly for the public. I suggested that the MPCA look at Maryland's example called BayStat.

Presentation to Jobs Task Force: The House Jobs Task Force is a group of several dozen legislators seeking ways to trigger improved job growth during the recession. On November 30th, I gave a three-minute presentation on how the state could use recycling as a way to boost job growth, since recycling leads to more economic value and growth than throwing recyclable waste away. For example, in Wisconsin, the state has required that all public building projects recycle 50% of their construction waste. For every $1,000 in construction costs, this requirement saves a dollar. It also provides cheaper raw material to manufacturers of concrete, asphalt, steel, aluminum, etc. Quite a few metro area recycling businesses are ready to hire more people if something like this was more widespread.

Check your water data: The New York Times did a recent major article about pollution in drinking water in the U.S. They created a database that you can search for your community's water quality report. All cities in 53A are listed. We have fewer contaminants probably because we don't get water from the Mississippi. On a related issue, the MN Department of Health received some additional funding from the new dedicated sales tax to detect new contaminants in our drinking water. The MPCA has also produced an endocrine disruptor study that shows what kind of contaminants are in our lakes that could mess with the endocrine systems of fish and possibly humans. Lake Owasso in Shoreview was among the lakes tested. At the federal level, the U.S. EPA is considering possible federal regulatory action on pharmaceuticals in drinking water. I'm working on a bill-HF1217-that would reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals being flushed into our wastewater treatment systems. During the fall, I've met with various public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders on the bill so we can make it the best we can make it.

Health care: I found this interesting New York Times article called If Health Reform Fails, America's Innovation Gap Will Grow. It asserts that entrepreneurs will not take risks if they are concerned about not having health coverage.

Energy conservation: My house was one of 50,000 Xcel Energy customers to have an energy usage report with my bill. My energy use was compared to that of my neighbors and the Xcel web site has lots of useful tools for reducing wasted energy. Reporting to customers like this in other states has resulted in a two percent reduction in energy use.

Vikings stadium: The debate on a possible new Vikings stadium is heating up. Many constituents know that I am not a big supporter of public funding for stadiums. Our House Research department has done a great background study of previous stadium funding efforts.

Spending amendment: Governor Pawlenty has proposed the use of a constitutional amendment to cap state spending at the level of the previous budget except in cases of emergency. Here's a link to an analysis that shows that this is not a great idea.

Visitors: Department of Human Services on mental health & State Operated Services; MN Pharmacists Association on HF1217; WasteCap Wisconsin about construction site recycling; constituent about athletic trainer certification bill; constituent about market-based health care bill; Senator Sheran about HF1372; Legal Aid about a water utilities bill; DHS and House Research about HF1217; Ramsey County lobbyist and solid waste staff; Partnership for Affordable Energy about promoting coal as a power source; MN Hospital Association about mental health; League of MN Cities about water utilities bill; constituent and advocates for natural burials; Circle Pines constituent visting the Capitol; Health Partners staff and lobbyists about GAMC; Aging Services of MN & Care Providers of MN about HF1217; Healthy Legacy about HF1217 and HF2407

Visits (where I was the vistor): Ace Solid Waste in Ramsey, Delkor Systems in Blaine; North Oaks for St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce event; NorthStar line opening at Fridley station; E3 Conference presentation on compostable bags; Metro North Chamber of Commerce Working Green Business Expo in Blaine; Allied Waste recycling center in Minneapolis; Courageous Conversations about Health Care event in Mahtomedi; National Caucus of Environmental Legislators conference in Chicago (no taxpayer dollars spent for my travel); House DFL Caucus fundraiser; MPCA meeting on waste issues; Ramsey Conservation District; House DFL Caucus retreat; Anoka County Juvenile Detention Center in Lino Lakes (The Pines School) to talk to students about government