When Minnesotans think of summer, they imagine time on the lake fishing, family reunions and fireworks. New laws that go into effect July 1 and Aug. 1 don’t get as much attention.
As of July 1, new funds were dedicated to help fight the opioid crisis, make wage theft by employers a felony and fund government services. On Aug. 1 the “Hands-Free Law” takes effect. making it illegal to hold a cell phone to talk, text or look at a phone while driving. Drivers may use voice commands to make calls, text or get directions.
While it was good these initiatives were passed into law and the state’s two-year budget was passed, much important work on LGA and health care was left unfinished.
With a DFL majority in the House of Representatives and a GOP majority in the Senate, Minnesota has the only divided Legislature in the country. The session started with talk of working together to move Minnesota forward, but in the final weeks of the legislative session the spirit of compromise was tested.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz set a goal of ending the legislative session on time, but that didn’t happen. A one-day special session was needed to pass the state’s budget. Unfortunately, that didn’t include the “Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act.”
Smith was a 26-year-old Minnesotan who died in 2017 after rationing his insulin. Smith’s story brought national attention to the sky-rocketing cost of insulin: The must-have medicine for people with diabetes has tripled in the last 10 years.
The Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Howard of Richfield, would create a statewide insulin assistance program for Minnesotans struggling to afford the drug. It would be funded through an insulin manufacturing fee on the three largest insulin manufactures. These corporations control 90 percent of the market and make billions in profits.
“Never again should any Minnesotan lose their life because they cannot afford the insulin they need to survive,” Rep. Howard said. “Far too many Minnesotans are being crushed by the cost of prescription drugs and it’s our responsibility to take bold action that puts the health and well-being of citizens ahead of Big Pharma profits.”
The DFL-led House passed the bill and included it in the House Omnibus Health and Human Services budget bill. The GOP-led Senate included the Act in its omnibus bill. But in final negotiations, it was removed. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, our state senator, was quoted as saying that details of the insulin bill could not be worked out and “if it wasn’t ready for prime time, that stuff started to get tossed out.”
Many people, including Smith’s parents, worked hard this session and advocated for this life-saving bill and have committed to continuing their efforts. Hopefully the next time the Alec Smith Insulin Act comes up Sen. Gazelka and his GOP Caucus will act, and families will no longer be forced to mourn lives that could have been saved.
Roman Witucki of Little Falls is the Morrison County DFL chair.