October 09, 2019

Minnesota Legislative Update: Recapping the Historic House 'Mini-Session'

Last week, the Minnesota House of Representatives held a three day “mini-session” in the Minnesota communities of Rochester, Austin, Winona, and the surrounding area. It was the first mini-session — which were much more common in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, when legislators and staff would travel the state more regularly — since 1997.

Minnesota House of Representatives standing committees held informational hearings. Most of the hearings were roundtable discussions with stakeholders and tours of local projects and businesses to hear from local leaders about the needs of their communities. Most House members attended the hearings. The following are highlights from those hearings.

Health and Human Services (HHS)

The Health and Human Services Finance Division heard presentations from Mayo Clinic doctors regarding the costs of prescription drugs. Speaking on their own behalf and not for Mayo Clinic, they suggested different reasons for the possible increase in prescription drug pricing. Among the issues discussed were patent evergreening, individual patient circumstances and the rise in use of specialty medications and perceived middlemen. The doctors suggested creating a nonprofit pharmaceutical company, promoting value-based pricing and/or tying costs to inflation as solutions the legislature could consider.

The committee also held an informational hearing on prescription drug pricing bills from the 2019 legislative session. HF1246, authored by Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven) establishes a drug price transparency act; HF4, authored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) prohibits drug manufacturers or distributors from charging unconscionable prices; and HF1523, authored by Rep. Hunter Cantrell (DFL-Savage) establishes a prescription drug purchasing plan. These bills will likely be discussed in the 2020 legislative session.

Taxes

The House Tax Committee and the House Property and Local Tax Division held joint hearings to allow local leaders to discuss the challenges they face in setting their budgets. City and county officials spoke to the importance of Local Government Aid (LGA) and County Program Aid (CPA). They also expressed the belief that mandates from the legislature and rule changes place undue constraints on their budgets. The issue of dark stores in their communities was raised and legislators seemed receptive to discussing possible solutions in the 2020 legislative session.

Transportation

The House Transportation Finance and Policy Division heard from city and county officials regarding the importance of the Winona port and the need for further infrastructure funding. Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Commissioner Margaret Kelliher gave a presentation about transportation and the impact on greenhouse gases. Because of the increase in temperatures during the winter months, MnDOT is reassessing its modeling on how to plan and respond to road conditions.

Commissioner Harrington at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) gave an update on MNLARs. Members of the public urged committee members to continue to expand on clean alternatives including increasing electric vehicle charging stations.

Ways and Means

To end the historic mini-session, the House Ways and Means committee held a hearing to give an update on the state’s budget process and an overview the state’s budget. Last session, the legislature passed into law three contingent expenditures if a budget surplus were to be forecast. These expenditures were recently authorized by Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB). They are $20 million to the disaster relief fund, $13 million to metro mobility in FY21 and $30 million for school safety grants. There is some historical precedent for contingent expenditures, but it is rare.

Important Dates

2019

  • November 5 – Election Day
  • Approx. December 4 – November Forecast

2020

  • January 15 – Last day for the Governor’s Capital Budget to be released
  • February 11 – Session reconvenes
  • Approx. February 28 – February Forecast
  • May 18 – Session adjourns
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