2023 Legislative Priorities (Part 2)

https://www.womenspress.com/diversity-in-politics-series/

Health

HF2930 is the omnibus health finance and policy bill that rolls 63 pieces of legislation into one, sponsored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL–Rochester). If passed, it would appropriate about $7.1 billion during 2024-25 biennium, with $6.2 billion going to the Department of Human Services and almost $909.9 million to the Department of Health. Some elements:

  • The bill proposes repealing numerous rules and requirements surrounding reproductive health care, some of which have already been found unconstitutional by Minnesota courts.
  • Removing the income requirement for MinnesotaCare that would create a “public option” for coverage, offering a direct payment system for MinnesotaCare and medical assistance ($149.8 million)
  • The state would pay pharmacies directly for prescription drugs, instead of through managed care contracts.
  • Child mental health grants ($93.6 million)
  • Adult mental health grants ($265.8 million)
  • A dental home pilot program to increase dental care access for medical assistance and MinnesotaCare enrollees ($659,000)
  • Office of African American Health to address unique needs and health disparities Black Minnesotans face ($4.4 million)
  • Office of American Indian Health would be established to coordinate with tribal nations and craft public health strategies to achieve health equity ($4.2 million)

Find our coverage of reproductive rights


Housing

UPDATE March 31 from media release: On March 30, Governor Walz signed into law a bill that provides $50 million to prevent family homelessness. The funds expand the existing Family Homeless Prevention Assistance Program (FHPAP), administered by 20 counties, Tribal Nations and community assistance programs and their subgrantees. The program typically distributes $10 million in state appropriations per year.

Minnesota Housing program staff, who manage the funds, indicate the program is currently able to serve about 10 percent of those eligible for it. “The need is so great that our administrators typically run out of funds the first week of each month,” says Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Leimaile Ho. “With the $50 million we’ll be able to serve another 20,000 families. That’s tremendous.”

Both the Senate and House proposed budget bills include additional funding for the next two years.

Minnesota residents experiencing a housing crisis may be eligible for help with their rent, utilities or other housing costs if their income is at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines. Those interested in applying are encouraged to reach out to the administrator in their region.


HF2930 would also provide $435.9 million for housing support grants.

In addition, Rep. Michael Howard (DFL–Richfield) is sponsoring HF2335, the omnibus housing finance bill, which would appropriate $1.1 billion to the Housing Finance Agency to address problems with homelessness, renting and homeownership:

  • The bill would provide 2025 funding for the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program ($75 million) and a supportive housing program ($5 million);
  • Establishing a statewide rental assistance program ($100 million);
  • 2024 funding for a manufactured home lending grants program ($25 million) and manufactured home park cooperative purchase program ($10 million);  
  • A new Greater Minnesota housing infrastructure grant program ($5 million)
  •  Funding for a 2023 first-generation homebuyers down payment assistance fund pilot project ($150 million)
  • Lead safe homes grant program ($4 million)

Previously the House approved a one-time appropriation of $50 million for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to fund the program’s current needs for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, with payments to help cover rent, utility payments, and other housing costs.

As Howard indicated at the time: “We have never funded this program at a level anywhere near commensurate with its need. They release these FHPAP dollars quarterly and in just the first few days, those funds are all gone. … Last year, over 20,000 Minnesotans were evicted. It is truly a statewide problem,” Howard said. “Pipestone, Grant, Olmsted, Clay, Wadena, Chippewa, Roseau, Jackson and Yellow Medicine County all have seen an over 100 percent increase in evictions compared to pre-pandemic levels.”

Over 200,000 Minnesota households live with housing insecurity every month and over a third of renters in almost every county cannot afford their rent.

Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative CEO Lee Blons

Find our coverage of the Minnesota housing crisis


Public Safety

Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL–Shoreview) is sponsoring HF2890, the omnibus public safety finance bill, that proposes spending $2.2 billion in 2024-25 for what Moller calls “transformational changes” in all corners of the criminal justice system. The Department of Corrections would receive $1.58 billion and the Department of Public Safety would receive $574.7 million.

  • Banning no-knock warrants,
  • “Red-flag” provisions allowing family members and others to petition a court to have firearms removed from a person found to pose a significant danger to themselves or others
  • Instituting universal background checks on handgun sales
  • Establishing the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls;
  • Establishing Ramsey County juvenile treatment homes
  • Requiring the state, instead of counties, to pay for medical examination costs for criminal sexual conduct victims;
  • Authorizing local units of government to establish civilian oversight councils with powers to make findings of fact and impose discipline on peace officers;
  • Granting early conditional release to inmates who make sufficient progress toward rehabilitation;
  • Barring unnecessary strip searches of juveniles in detention

More details: https://www.house.mn.gov/Committees/Home/93020


Sen. Ron Latz sponsored the related SF2909

Letters in response to the omnibus judiciary and public safety bill came from many sources, both in support and raising concerns.

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell:

  • “Inclusion of the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act creates a long-term, comprehensive, and evidence-based approach to preventing future crime by incentivizing rehabilitation and improving community reentry.”
  • “Responsibly funds correctional supervision across Minnesota to better meet the needs of the 88,000 individuals subject to community supervision, be it probation, parole, or supervised release.”
  • “Allows for the savings from program success to be reinvested in victim support services, crime prevention and intervention.”
  • “Meaningfully invests in community sex offender treatment — the first significant increase since 2007.”

Schnell points out in the conclusion that 95 percent of people in Minnesota prisons return to communities, which is why public safety depends on rehabilitation success.

The omnibus bill passed in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Find our coverage on Justice & Public Safety. Our online Public Safety discussions about supportive housing for mental health and substance use issues, addressing gun violence, and restructuring systems to be trauma-informed, begins in May.


Sue Abderholden, director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota. Photo Sarah Whiting

Reactions to Mental Health, Youth Treatment, and Gun Violence Provisions

Sue Abderholden and Elliot Butay of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) stressed in a letter that many reentry coordination programs exist, but do not have sustainable funding for staff or to meet the needs of formerly incarcerated people for medications, getting identity documents such as birth certificates, or bus tickets and food. This “can have a direct impact on whether or not people return to the same jail the very next week after release.”

NAMI highly supports funding toward existing community-based mental health programs, rather than police response in a crisis. “We are concerned that some co-responder models do not have sufficient privacy protections, they do not require credentials or training for crisis responders. … We want to build on our existing mobile crisis teams which can provide a non-police response to people in crisis or co-respond when necessary.

“The language as it is in SF2909 essentially requires a police response when that may not always be necessary. … If a non-police response is possible, it is the best practice. We hope you will consider amending this language to keep building our mental health system.”

Ramsey County Commission Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo commended the bill for supporting a pilot program to address youth violence with community-based and culturally specific intensive treatment homes with wraparound therapeutic services.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus objected to a provision that would restrict gun ownership for certain people, based on SF1117 (aka red flag law) that allows law enforcement and family members to ask a court to prohibit people who could be dangerous from owning a gun. The Caucus indicates this is a hurdle for “law-abiding citizens who wish to exercise their Second Amendment right to purchase and possess firearms for self-defense while not doing anything to stop the flow of firearms in the criminal, illicit gun market that operates in Minnesota.”

The Caucus also objects to creating a paperwork trail with law enforcement, firearm dealers, and private citizens that is, in effect, a registry of firearms and their owners, and can “disenfranchise marginalized populations from exercising their constitutional rights.”

The original SF1117 bill would prohibit sales to people under the age of 18; a person who has been convicted of a violent crime; someone with a judicial determination of mental illness and danger unless the right to own a firearm has been restored; a person who has been convicted of assaulting a household member using a firearm unless three years have elapsed; anyone who is subject to an order for protection; a person who has been convicted at the gross misdemeanor level of crimes committed for the benefit of a gang, a bias-motivated assault, harassment or stalking; and other details.

See SF1117