LSP 2016 Legislative Wrap-up: Local Control, Sustainable Ag Funding & Healthcare

The 2016 Minnesota legislative session ended at midnight on May 22 with the Land Stewardship Project engaged right until the end. Here is a summary of how the issues LSP was most engaged in fared during the session:

👍Legislation weakening local control is defeated (HF 2585/ SF 2694). For decades, LSP has fended off efforts by corporate interests to limit local control of potentially harmful and unwanted development proposals. LSP members' direct engagement with legislators played a decisive role in stopping this anti-local control legislation, which was a priority for well-connected corporate interests. As a grassroots organization, our position, strategy and strength on this issue is derived directly from the experience and passion of our members who want strong authority at the local level. These members want to stop corporate interests from pushing unwanted developments that threaten the environmental and human health of communities. Read more here: LSP Helps Keep Local Control Strong (Again).

👍 $1 million for U of M Forever Green Initiative — a public investment in public research. Forever Green is doing cutting-edge research on developing cover cropping and forage production systems that are profitable for farmers while protecting soil and water quality. The initiative is unique in that it is not only developing new water and soil-friendly varieties and figuring out ways to integrate them into the traditional corn-soybean rotation; researchers are also helping develop markets for these cover crops, providing farmers an economic incentive to plant them.

👎 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens' Board not reinstated. This democratic institution, which was established in 1968, was abolished literally in the dark of night during the final hours of the 2015 state legislative session. The MPCA Citizens’ Board had served as a testament to our Minnesota value that people deserve a say in the decisions that impact their lives and their communities. Four Senate bills were introduced to reinstate the Citizens’ Board, with a total of 17 authors and co-authors. Senate File 2384, carried by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) made it through two committees. However, the bill never came up for a vote on the Senate Floor. In the House, Rep. David Bly introduced HF 2593 with 10 co-authors, but the bill was never heard in committee.

👍 Asset test for MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance defeated. Proposed by the House Republican majority, an asset test would have disqualified families with more than $20,000 in assets from MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance. Farmers and other rural residents in particular rely heavily on these important public programs to provide basic health coverage. But families with assets in land, equipment or college and retirement savings would have lost access to affordable healthcare under this proposal. LSP members kept the pressure on legislators with e-mails, direct conversations and letters-to-the-editor in newspapers around the state. As a result, the asset test was taken out of the final budget agreement.

👍 Estate liens removed from properties of people over age 55 on Medical Assistance. The budget agreement stopped the placement of liens on the properties of people over age 55 who access Medical Assistance for basic medical coverage. The threat of estate recoveries surfaced in the past year and caused major concerns for farm families, especially those trying to pass on farms to the next generation. There had been no notice of this threat, and no option to choose to enroll in MinnesotaCare rather than Medical Assistance to avoid a lien. The bill passed by the Legislature eliminated any liens that have accumulated for basic care through Medical Assistance and stopped liens from being placed in the future.

👎 No meaningful progress towards affordable, quality healthcare for all Minnesotans. LSP worked to expand MinnesotaCare eligibility from 200 percent of the poverty level to 275 percent. This would have included 40,000 more people in the excellent MinnesotaCare program while helping address the financial “cliff” families face between qualifying for MinnesotaCare and affording decent insurance on the individual market. We worked to fix the “family glitch” that leaves spouses and children with no affordable coverage if one family member has insurance through a job. And LSP pushed for a study comparing different healthcare systems, including a single payer system, and for steps toward a public option for Minnesotans to buy into MinnesotaCare. All these positive steps were passed by the Senate, but the House did not support them and they were left out of the final budget agreement.

Land Stewardship Project organizer Bobby King focuses on state and local policy issues. He can be contacted at 612-722-6377 or bking@landstewardshipproject.org.