Minnesota Legislature closes 2023 session by passing bills on health, infrastructure
Minnesota State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Minnesota House of Representatives.
The DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature — once stymied by years of gridlock — was on the verge of concluding the 2023 session on Monday after passing a series of far-reaching bills during a fast-paced, momentous session.
On Monday, tour groups, students on field trips and nurses union members walked the halls of the Capitol to monitor the Legislature’s final day. Uber and Lyft drivers continued their enthusiastic presence, this time urging Gov. Tim Walz to sign a bill the Legislature passed giving them minimum pay and other protections.
The session’s last day included optimal 80-degree weather — a fitting Minnesota end to a session that began on a day with wet, heavy snow.
The House and Senate considered three notable bills Monday: the health and human services budget, a bill aimed at increasing nursing staffing levels and a bill allocating billions for infrastructure projects around the state.
Here is a breakdown of the outstanding bills the Legislature was poised to pass by the end of the day Monday:
Health and Human Services budget
The DFL majority agreed on a $6.2 billion two-year health and human services budget, which includes increased funding for mental health services; the creation of a state department for children, youth and families; and a proposal to allow undocumented residents to enroll in the state’s publicly subsidized insurance, known as MinnesotaCare.
The expansion of MinnesotaCare will grant access to the more than 40,000 undocumented people estimated to live in Minnesota and meet the program’s requirements.
The Senate on Monday afternoon passed the bill by a 34-32 vote, and the House passed it 69-64.
“This bill is a gamechanger for Minnesota families thanks to the investments we are making to improve their daily lives and remove many of the unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles they face,” said Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, in a statement. “This truly will deliver transformational change for all Minnesotans.”
The 845-page bill includes a watered-down version of the proposed Health Care Affordability Board, which as proposed would have tackled the ongoing problem of expensive health care that required increasing portions of the state’s budget to care for people in need. The Mayo Clinic earlier this month sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz, threatening to pull billions in investments from the state in part over the creation of the affordability board.
Now, the bill creates a new center within the state’s Department of Health that will study the causes of growing health care costs, but it won’t be able to penalize providers for charging patients high costs for care.
Creating a new state Department of Children, Youth and Families — proposed by Walz — will transfer responsibilities from existing agencies to the new department. It would administer a number of programs, including early learning, juvenile justice and child care grants. The bill allocates over $7 million for the creation of the new department.
The creation of the new department was another sign how busy the Legislature’s been this year: People have talked about reorganizing the Department of Human Services for years, and this year it happened despite relatively scant attention.
Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act
The so-called Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act fell short during the session’s final hours after the Senate attempted to hammer out a last-minute compromise on a bill that aims to give nurses some say over hospital staffing.
Lawmakers were concerned over the proposed carve out for Mayo Clinic, which the hospital won after it threatened to pull billions in investments from Minnesota.
“I’m very concerned by the Mayo carve out. It’s bad public policy. Everyone should play by the same rules and the same laws,” Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, told the Reformer.
The bill was made into a study after supporters capitulated to the demands of hospitals, who were fiercely opposed to the bill. The legislation will support violence prevention and bolster nursing recruitment, but will be without the signature goal of giving nurses some say in how hospitals are staffed.
Given a one seat majority in the Senate, Democrats must be in full agreement in order to move any legislation forward.
“Because of the power and influence of corporate healthcare executives, that bill has died,” said Mary Turner, the president of the Minnesota Nurses’ Association.
Legislators said they will attempt to pass the full Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act next year.
The Legislature came to an agreement over the weekend to spend $2.6 billion in cash and general obligation bonds to pay for infrastructure projects across the state. Lawmakers haven’t passed a bill to pay for critical infrastructure projects since the fall of 2020.
Back in March, Senate Republicans killed the massive infrastructure package, which requires a supermajority and thus Republican votes because it entails selling general obligation bonds. Republicans sought to use that leverage to squeeze more tax cuts from DFL legislators.
Legislative leaders finally reached a compromise after DFL lawmakers agreed to spend $300 million more for the state’s struggling nursing homes. Republicans all session have urged the DFL majority to spend more money on nursing homes, which are often a key community asset in smaller greater Minnesota cities represented by Republicans.
The agreement between leaders includes $1.5 billion in bonding and $1.1 billion in cash for infrastructure projects. Republicans would be able to use all of the $300 million for nursing homes, or all or part of it could be used for other GOP-favored infrastructure projects, according to the agreement.
“We’ve put partisanship aside and made sure that if we’re going to save one thing, we’ve got to make sure that we save our nursing homes,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said at a Saturday news conference.
About 50% of the projects that will receive funding are in districts with DFL lawmakers, while the other 50% are in districts with Republican representatives.
The Senate passed the cash and bonding bills late Monday afternoon, and the House was poised to pass the $2.6 billion infrastructure package Monday.
Prior to the agreement over the weekend, the DFL-majority planned to pass an all-cash infrastructure bill, funding primarily projects in DFL districts.
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