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Poppe: 2020 session accomplishments, shortcomings, and next steps

The 2020 legislative session adjourned Monday, May 18 with a sizable list of accomplishments for the people of Minnesota, but 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 Tuesday, February 11 and a few short weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic became real in Minnesota. We responded immediately to provide resources for our healthcare workforce and public health infrastructure to enable an aggressive response. The Legislature’s bipartisan work and partnership with Governor 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.

Thankfully, the void of leadership left by the Trump administration has been filled by Governor Walz, the Legislature, unique public-private partnerships, and the people of Minnesota who have been stepping up to care for one another in so many ways. We’ve worked together to provide economic aid to workers, families, and small businesses, and Minnesotans’ generosity and compassion are helping their neighbors and communities weather the worst of this pandemic.

We know family farms faced economic devastation long before COVID-19. As Chair of the 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. 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, including mental health resources, essential services provided by the Department of Agriculture, and Veterinary Diagnostic Lab equipment needed to respond to poultry and livestock diseases.

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 of our health.

Where the Legislature came up short this year was agreeing on a plan to invest in jobs and local projects. Minnesotans are asking the Legislature to invest 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 — like Austin’s wastewater treatment plant — 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. From checking in on our neighbors, to working the frontlines in health care, to 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.