Daily Digest: Walz wants deal on insulin

Good morning, and happy Thursday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Walz to lawmakers: Agree on a plan for emergency insulin. DFL Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday he is willing to call a special legislative session to help diabetics struggling to afford insulin but said lawmakers must first reach agreement on how to do it. The cost of the life-saving medicine has spiked in recent years, and Walz held a round table meeting Wednesday with diabetics, family members and others to hear their concerns. Despite broad support among state lawmakers, a measure to establish an emergency insulin program was left out of this year’s budget bills. The program would have provided insulin to people who couldn’t afford it, paid for by a fee on drug makers. Walz said drug companies’ unwillingness to pay for the proposed emergency insulin program has been a big hurdle. But he believes legislative leaders can overcome that resistance and put together a bill that he will sign. “Let’s get the leadership to put the right people in the room. Let’s work out where the sticking points are,” he said. “At that point in time, if we’re comfortable that they’re there and we’re comfortable with the advocacy groups that the piece of legislation that is ready to be bought forward is relatively complete, then we will call them back.” (MPR News)

2. Lillehaug to step down from high court. Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Lillehaug said Wednesday that he has Parkinson’s disease and won’t seek re-election next year. Lillehaug, 65, said in a statement released by the court that he expects to resign effective July 31, 2020. Under the state constitution, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz would appoint Lillehaug’s successor, who wouldn’t have to stand for election until 2022. “I have loved my six years of work on the Court and had planned to serve for a few more years. But my plan has changed because I have Parkinson’s disease. It’s at an early stage, it’s well-managed, and I feel great,” Lillehaug said. Lillehaug served as U.S. attorney for Minnesota from 1994-1998 under President Bill Clinton. He returned to private practice until Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2013. He survived a bout with throat cancer in 2013. Lillehaug’s involvement in Democratic Party politics included unsuccessful runs for state attorney general and U.S. Senate. He helped in the legal fights that led to the recount victories of Dayton in 2010 and former Sen. Al Franken after the 2008 election. He was a top aide on Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign in 1984. (AP)

3. Snow day relief not working as smoothly as some hoped. A new Minnesota law that provided relief to school districts struggling to catch up after a long run of weather-related cancellations is prompting a new debate over when and how custodians, bus drivers, educational assistants and other hourly workers should be compensated for missed days. The “Snow Day Relief Act” passed this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Walz allowed districts to count days canceled for “health and safety concerns” toward their required instructional time, rather than having to make days up at the end of the school year. That flexibility came with a catch: if districts counted a missed day as instructional time, they’d need to compensate hourly employees or offer them additional hours on another day. Walz and legislators who backed the provision said their aim was simple: to make hourly workers whole after a particularly unpredictable school year. But in practice, it’s been far more complicated, leaving some school administrators and workers at odds over union contracts, makeup days and the level of respect offered to school staff. (Star Tribune)

4. Judge won’t exempt charter schools in school segregation case. A Hennepin County judge this week decided not to exempt Minnesota charter schools from a lawsuit aimed at addressing school segregation. The Cruz-Guzman case claims that persistent school segregation effectively denies Minnesota children an adequate education. Several charter schools sought to be exempted from whatever ruling might be made in the case, but a judge on Monday decided not to exempt them. Daniel Shulman, who represents the plaintiffs, said he was delighted by the decision. “The impact is that the charter schools don’t get a free pass here,” Shulman said. “They’ve asked the judge basically to say that they can’t be held accountable for the contribution they’ve made to segregation. And the judge wouldn’t do that, as I think was correct.” Nekima Levy-Armstrong, who represents the charter schools involved in the case, said her clients are disappointed but not surprised by Judge Susan Robiner’s decision. “Our clients have done an incredible job providing culturally affirming environments for students and also outstanding educational opportunities,” she said. “And we want to ensure that, regardless of the outcome of this litigation, their rights will be protected, that their ability to educate students will be protected, and that the choices of parents — particularly parents of color — will also be protected.” (MPR News)

5. Mental health a major problem for incarcerated women. The first time Dawn Peel tried to get help in the mental health clinic at the Minnesota’s women’s prison in Shakopee, she brought a stack of papers 8 inches thick, she said. They were records documenting more than 150 appointments she’d had with her psychologist before she went to prison. “I would like to get some help,” she recalled telling the clinician. “And he looked at me and my stack of you know, 8-inch deep pile of medical records and he said, ‘We don’t have the staff to help you.’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘what?'” People in jails and prisons are much more likely than the general public to have a mental illness, and the prevalence among incarcerated women is especially high. Minnesota’s corrections commissioner, Paul Schnell, has said dealing with mental illness in the system is a priority for the new administration.But formerly and currently incarcerated women in Minnesota say they don’t get the care they need. (MPR News)

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