Daily Digest: Lawmakers seek to lower insulin prices

Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday.  Stu Lourey won the DFL primary for the open Senate District 11 seat Tuesday. He’ll face Republican Jason Rarick and Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate John Birrenbach in the special election on Feb. 5. Now on to the Digest.

1. Lawmakers react to insulin price spikes. James Holt knows how critical insulin is to diabetics. “It’s oxygen. How we need oxygen to breathe, they need insulin to live. It’s the same.” Holt’s son, Alec Smith, died in 2017 after scaling back on the medication he struggled to afford. “It’s time we do something about it. Enough is enough. We lost our 26-year-old son way too early.” Holt and wife, Nicole Smith-Holt, came to the Capitol Tuesday wearing sweatshirts with the social media hashtag “#insulin4all” and urging lawmakers to step in so other diabetics don’t have to ration their insulin. Alec’s name could one day appear atop a new law establishing emergency access to insulin even if people lack the ability to pay for it.  Pharmacies would be reimbursed through a fee on insulin manufacturers. The size of the fee hasn’t been determined. It’s one of four approaches on the table to maintain access or control insulin costs for diabetics through new state regulations. Others seek to curb prices by demanding more transparency from manufacturers, distributors and companies that administer prescription programs for insurers. Another would bar insurers from removing brands of insulin, equipment or supplies from their plans during a subscriber’s 12-month enrollment period. (MPR News)

2. Walz backs restorative justice for veterans. Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday pledged to back a developing effort to create a statewide restorative justice program for veterans charged with certain crimes. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit Veterans Defense Project help create a draft of the legislation, and those who worked on it are optimistic that bills will be introduced in the state House and Senate as soon as this month. But Walz — himself an Army veteran — opted not to wait for that step, instead assuring an audience of veterans and officials from across the state’s criminal justice system Tuesday that the measure would be a priority. “It’s smart. We need to get it done,” Walz said at an event in St. Paul held to show support for the legislation. “Maybe this is slightly unorthodox, [but] I want to make it very clear that we stand 100 percent with you. The governor’s office is here to make sure this gets done.” (Star Tribune)

3. Shutdown talk dominates Emmer town hall. Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer got an earful about the partial federal government shutdown Tuesday, at the first town hall style meeting he’s held in his district since the funding interruption began in December. “Literally what you have right now is you have an executive who has demanded $5.7 billion, you have a majority leader in the Senate who has offered $1.6 billion at different times. And you have a new speaker of the house that has offered $1,” Emmer told about 60 people gathered in a conference room at Ramsey Municipal Center in northern Anoka County. The daytime crowd was mostly skeptical about the shutdown — and a few in the crowd challenged Emmer forcefully on the issue, although others did say they had very real concerns about border security. Janine Smullen, of Big Lake, told Emmer that her husband, a chief inspector for the Federal Railroad Administration has had to continue to work without pay. “It’s incredibly stressful,” said Smullen, who said she was picking up extra shifts as an ER nurse in Princeton. “There are people who are really suffering because of this shutdown. It’s not just a number. And I don’t understand. I don’t get the point. If they’re going to pay us why make us suffer? So the only point is to make people suffer until I get my way? It just doesn’t make any sense, at all,” she said, after telling Emmer of her family’s situation. Carol Polzin, a retired executive from Big Lake, told Emmer she was concerned about drugs, human trafficking and crime coming in through the border with Mexico. “I was just so glad that we have a president who has the courage to stand alone a lot of times and do his constitutional duty and protect our friends and family and children and everybody from all the incoming abuses of our border security,” Polzin said. (MPR News)

4.  Peterson says Democrats should give the president money for a wall. DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson is telling his Democratic colleagues to approve President Trump’s request for funding a wall on the southern border.  On KFGO Radio Tuesday Peterson said approving Trump’s request could help bring an end to an “unnecessary” government shutdown. “Give Trump the money” Peterson said. “I’d give him the whole thing…and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.” Peterson suggested that a portion of the money could be used to help the Border Patrol and to improve security measures at ports of entry.  “I don’t know if I want to give (Trump) a blank check, but I don’t want to preclude him from getting the money either, if he’s going to use the money correctly.” Peterson, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, added “I don’t know how we get (to a deal).   The White House hasn’t called me. When I bring up what I have to say (to Democrats), they look at me cross-eyed.” (KFGO)

5. Hands-free cell phone bill clears House committee. In sometimes emotional testimony, family members of people killed in crashes involving distracted drivers urged House lawmakers to support of making hand-held cell phone use illegal while driving. Danielle Wishard-Tudor of Henderson, Minn., blamed a distracted driver for the 2017 crash that killed her brother. “These are not accidents, okay?” said Wishard-Tudor. “There are vehicle crashes that result in lives lost and families devastated forever, all because drivers forgot the most important thing you do when you get behind the wheel of a car is — you just drive.” Under the bill, a hands-free cell phone with one-touch activation would be required for people who are driving. Sixteen other states have passed similar measures. The proposed legislation approved by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division would expand Minnesota’s existing ban on texting while driving. (MPR News)

6. Abortion opponents rally to mark anniversary of Roe v Wade. Abortion opponents rallied Tuesday at the Minnesota Capitol to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade court decision that legalized abortion, and they acknowledged they face new obstacles to enacting restrictions on the procedure. Robyn Swiderski of the group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) told the bundled-up crowd to lobby for a bill requiring doctors to make ultrasound pictures available to women before abortions. “Will you help these unborn children?” she asked the crowd that spilled from the Capitol’s front steps onto the snow-covered mall. “Will you keep working towards allowing the truth to shine in the darkness? We can do this together. We must keep fighting for the very lives of these innocent ones.” An MCCL-backed ultrasound bill was passed by the Legislature last year, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. Democrats who support abortion rights won a majority in the House in November, and Dayton’s DFL successor, Gov. Tim Walz, also is on record opposing new restrictions on access to abortion. (MPR News)

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