Minnesota’s 2020 legislative session adjourned May 18 with a sizable list of accomplishments for the people of Minnesota, yet also many shortcomings that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months.
The 2020 session quickly became the “pandemic session.” We gaveled in on Feb. 11, and a few short weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic became real in Minnesota. We responded immediately to provide resources for our health care workforce and public health infrastructure to enable an aggressive response. The Legislature’s bipartisan work and partnership with Gov. Tim Walz, his administration, public health officials and the people of Minnesota have, without a doubt, prevented far more catastrophic loss of life.
Minnesota’s response to COVID-19 has been complicated and impeded by a lack of a comprehensive national strategy directed by the federal government. States have had to compete against one another to purchase personal protective equipment and testing supplies. It was recently reported that a significant amount of testing equipment purchased by Minnesota and en route for delivery was literally intercepted by the federal government and diverted elsewhere.
Minnesotans’ generosity and compassion are helping their neighbors and communities weather the worst of this pandemic. The people of Minnesota have been stepping up to care for one another in so many ways. Gov. Walz and the Legislature acted immediately to provide economic aid to workers, families and small businesses impacted by COVID-19, but far too many people still cannot make ends meet.
We know family farms faced economic devastation long before COVID-19. As chairwoman of the Minnesota House Agriculture and Food Division, I’m pleased to report that our important work of providing new aid to farmers and producers made it across the finish line. We invested in mental health resources, essential services provided by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and Veterinary Diagnostic Lab equipment needed to respond to poultry and livestock diseases. These things will not fully address the needs of Minnesota’s farmers and producers during these challenging times, but they do provide vitally needed support and assistance.
We need farmers to be able to stay on the farm, so state lawmakers put the brakes on farm foreclosure proceedings by extending the farmer-lender mediation deadline. This provides badly needed flexibility for farmers who are unable to participate in face-to-face mediations due to public health guidelines.
Many rural Minnesota residents don’t have reliable internet options, and web conferencing tools such as Zoom or Webex are not available or practical for many farmers, which makes mediation during this public health crisis nearly impossible. Mediation is now extended to 150 days or until Dec. 1, whichever is later (applies to farmers currently in mediation and to those who apply for mediation before Aug. 31).
The Legislature made progress on addressing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, including insulin that Minnesotans with diabetes need to stay alive the same way you and I need to drink water and breathe air. We approved the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act and the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act, both of which improve accountability for big drug companies that have profited richly off our health. This is something that will help all people, no matter where you call home or what you do for a living.
More work to do
Where the Legislature came up short this year was agreeing on a plan to invest in jobs and local projects. Minnesotans are asking for investments in their communities. We know people are hurting from the impact of COVID-19 and we have an opportunity to help by creating statewide economic activity. Investing in jobs and local projects such as roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants and flood mitigation will quicken our economic recovery and help Minnesotans thrive for generations.
As a part-time Legislature, it sometimes isn’t feasible to provide a timely response when we aren’t meeting in session. To address the ongoing COVID-19 issues, the Minnesota House of Representatives has established a Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding that will be responsible for providing oversight and taking a closer look into what we can do to protect public health and provide assistance for workers, businesses and families.
It seems likely the Legislature could meet for a special session, or sessions, over this summer to tackle unfinished business like the bonding bill or address urgent needs that arise in the future such as ensuring we have the resources for adequate PPE and testing equipment.
Most importantly, the pandemic has shown the importance of caring for one another. Whether it’s checking in on our neighbors, working the frontlines in health care or growing food for our families, Minnesotans are coming together to keep our communities safe.
Thank you for everything you are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during these extremely challenging times.
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, is chairwoman of the Minnesota House Ag and Food Division.