Legislative Update from Senator Paul Utke – April 13, 2018

Greetings Senate District 1!

Dayton Administration’s Excessive Buffer Penalties

This past week, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) introduced a proposed Administrative Penalty Order (APO) that would fine farmers out of compliance with Minnesota’s riparian buffer law by up to $500 per linear foot. The new APO would significantly exceed agreements reached between lawmakers and the administration this past session, resulting in thousands of dollars in fines annually for farmers who are even a few feet out of compliance across their entire property.

The order goes in the face of prior testimony from the BWSR and undermines agreements reached between the legislature and Governor this past session. In fact, the proposed rule goes against both State Law and statute.  While this proposal is a clear slap in the face to Minnesota’s agricultural community, Senate Republicans are committed to making sure its never enforced.

On Wednesday, we held a joint hearing between our Agriculture and Environment Finance Committees where we questioned the Administration and the head of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and heard compelling testimony from Minnesota farmers who would be hurt. The meeting was productive since the BSWR agreed to reverse their direction, but that decision does little to quell the mistrust they’ve created.

Health Care Transparency

On Thursday, we held a press conference revealing several key pieces of legislation today focused on making prices for common health care services clear and transparent to the average consumer, allowing you to avoid hidden costs, and save money on your care and prescription drugs. The proposals are the latest step in our caucus’s continued effort to lower your health care costs.

The proposed legislation includes:

  • S.F. 3033– Requires health care providers to post transparent prices for their twenty-five most commonly billed services and procedures in the reception area of the clinic and on their website.
  • S.F. 3480 – Requires health care providers and health insurance plans to provide a good faith estimate of the total health care costs a patient will be required to pay for a visit.
  • S.F. 2746 – Requires health care providers to disclose hidden facility fees a patient might be required to pay for services or procedures.
  • S.F. 2836– Saves consumers money on prescription drugs by allowing pharmacists to inform consumers when the cash cost of a prescription is less than the insured cost.

Mental Health Reform

On Wednesday, our caucus announced several new initiatives emphasizing our focus on caring for people unveiling four bills designed to improve Minnesotans’ mental health. The mental health proposals ranged from funding for more mental health facilities and services, to supportive housing, to school-based mental health programs, and lastly counseling support resources for farm families.

  • S.F. 2161 – Grants for projects to design, construct, and equip crisis centers to care for people with mental illness or substance use disorders, including individuals who are under arrest or subject to arrest, or in immediate need of crisis services.
  • S.F. 2159 – Housing infrastructure bonds to create permanent supportive housing for those who need a longer stay or extended monitoring to get back on their feet.
  • S.F. 3679 – Grants to support students’ mental health needs via telemedicine.
  • S.F. 2555 -Funding for mental health counseling support for farm families and business operators.
  • Various bills – Funding for safe schools that can be used for school counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and alcohol and chemical dependency counselors.

The mental health crisis affects us all, whether it’s you directly, someone in your family, or friend or neighbor in the community. It’s time we bring more attention to the issue and make sure we have the resources available to handle these concerns.