Healthcare, school finance top lawmaker wish list

9:26 PM, Jan 10, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There will be at least one thousand bills introduced during the 2013 legislature.  But the party in control traditionally tries to make a statement with the first batch of legislation thrown in the hopper.

The DFL majority in the Minnesota Senate Tuesday devoted the first piece of legislation, Senate File 1, to bringing the state into compliance with the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.


The bill would set up a statewide insurance exchange, which is an online marketplace where consumers can buy health coverage from private insurance companies with the the help of subsidies available through ObamaCare.

States have a deadline of April to craft their own insurance exchanges or live with one created by the federal government.

"Through doing that we're going to have the platform for true health care reform in Minnesota," Sen. Tony Lourey, a Democrat from Kerrick, told reporters.

"It's going to be a tough and complicated process, and along the way we're going to include the voices of as many stakeholders as we can."

Republicans, who held the majority the past two sessions, opposed the creation of a state insurance exchange. They rested their hopes on the possibility that Mitt Romney would be elected president and would work with Congress to repeal Obamacare.

"We realize the President was reelected and that they're going to go ahead with this health system," Sen. Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie told reporters.

"We, as a minority caucus, want to make sure that under the circumstances we will do everything that we can to protect the private sector market place, to protect the private health providers."

All Day Kindergarten

The second bill out of the gate would pay for voluntary all-day kindergarten for any school district that can offer that option to parents.  Currently the state of Minnesota pays for a half-day kindergarten, and those local districts that offer full days pick up the tab for the extra hours of classroom time.

"All day kindergarten is a major step towards enhancing Minnesota's commitment to quality education for ALL students," Sen. Greg Clausen, a Democrat from Apple Valley, remarked.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk referred to research showing the value of early childhood education, but noted that in Minnesota children aren't even required to go to kindergarten at all.

"If we all agree that early childhood learning is that important, at a minimum can't the first step be to provide full-day kindergarten for our students and parents that want to have it?" Bakk asked rhetorically.

He conceded some districts won't have the classroom space they would need to take advantage of the new funding, because they would still need to offer half-day kindergarten to families.

Bakk estimated that it would cost the state $170 million per year, and expects it to click into place during Fiscal Year 2015, for the 2015-2015 school year.

Senator Hann said Republicans want to study the cost/benefit analysis on all day kindergarten would before endorsing the idea.

"The first two bills are likely going to result in tax bills to generate the revenues to pay for them," he said.

"Raising tax rates, taking money out of the private sector, in our opinion doesn't grow the economy."

Minimum Wage

The third Senate bill would raise Minnesota's minimum hourly wage from the current $6.15 to $7.50 per hour.  For most minimum wage workers in the state if would represent a pay bump of 25-cents per hour, because most currently earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

The bill, authored by Sen. Chris Eaton of Brooklyn Center, would also index the state's minimum wage to inflation. In other words, it would automatically grow based on the cost of living, without further intervention from lawmakers.

"Putting more money in the pocket of minimum wage earners is good for the whole economy," Sen. Eaton told members of the Capitol press corps.

"They spend that money in local businesses, and going to college to continue their education."

The federal minimum is not indexed to the cost of living.  One example labor advocates cite is the 1968 minimum wage of $1.60 per hour. If it had been indexed to inflation, the minimum would be $10.58 per hour, more than three dollars higher than it is now.

Republican leader Hann said lawmakers should approach the minimum wage with caution. He said he believes that pay level allows many unskilled workers an opportunity to establish a work history that can lead to higher paying employment opportunities.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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