The beginning of every legislative session is a bit like the first day of school. Everyone is excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while and generally people are optimistic that this year will be even better than the last, and 2015 was no different.
With a $2 billion surplus and no legislators up for re-election, the legislative session was set up to be a successful one. Hopes were high that additional investments in education and health and human services would be made, our roads and bridges would be fixed, and the legislative session would end seamlessly on time.
But just as the new school year feeling is quickly tarnished by a fallout with a friend or a bad grade, the political and philosophical differences that quickly emerged this legislative session put a damper on the optimism. So despite having plenty of money with which to work, dueling priorities over tax cuts, transportation funding, and investments in early childhood education created an improbable solution.
As it relates to Children’s priorities, the massive gulf in approaches to spending on health and human services between the House (a proposed $1 billion cut) and Senate (a $340 million increase) created significant uncertainty for hospitals, nursing homes, mental health providers and many other service agencies. After several weeks of little movement, negotiators agreed to a bill with just one week to go. In keeping with the quirky nature of this year’s legislative session, they crafted a bill that cut $300 million from health and human services but still managed to put significant investments into the health system, including:
- Payment parity for telemedicine visits, an approach that has tremendous potential for keeping families closer to home to receive their care
- An additional $52 million for child protection services that will create a more robust system of accountability to keep children safe
- Additional medical education funding that will help train more pediatric residents and fellows
- More than $40 million investment in our mental health system — a long-overdue and much-needed investment for Minnesota children and families
- Funding for evidence-based home visiting programs that will help children ages 0-2 receive the best possible start in life
So, despite the difficulty of reaching a compromise, the House and Senate passed — and the governor signed — a bill that most in the health and human services committee probably would give a “B-” grade; not a bad way to end the year.
For others, though, they’re heading into “summer school” (special session) largely due to the governor’s veto of the education bill. Legislators and the governor will have until July 1 to reach an agreement to avoid a partial state shutdown. The good news is that these are hardworking people who care about our state and have no interest in getting an “F” from the people of Minnesota.
Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.