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At Minnesota Capitol, budget talks heat up, moms make final pitch to secure insulin access

Gov. Tim Walz spoke with reporters between a round of budget negotiation talks on Monday, May 13. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service 1 / 4
Nicole Smith-Holt speaks with reporters at the Capitol on Monday, May 13. Advocates for Minnesotans with type 1 diabetes hope lawmakers will approve legislation aimed at providing emergency access to insulin for those who can't afford it. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service2 / 4
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka spoke with reporters between rounds of budget negotiation talks on Monday, May 13. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service 3 / 4
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, left, and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, right, spoke with reporters between a round of budget negotiation talks on Monday, May 13. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service 4 / 4

ST. PAUL -- State legislative leaders and the governor on Monday, May 13, again deadlocked over state spending with a week left to get their work done.

Legislative leaders in the nation's only divided Legislature started their conversations with a $2 billion gap in proposed spending and seemed to inch closer to the middle, each giving up a bit more with each counteroffer. But their talks abruptly broke off after Republicans committed to blocking new taxes and Democrats said they'd fight to levy them to help pay for priorities such as schools and health care programs.

With a budget in the balance, stakeholders took to the Capitol to make their pitches to take policy changes out of massive budget bills. They worried that stalled budget talks could doom their proposals.

The decisions about spending could affect public schools, state safety net programs, public safety programs and more. And legislative leaders seemed unsure whether they could get their work done without going into overtime.

Now, they'll have to hammer out a deal in the next seven days or risk getting called back for a special session or force a state government shutdown.

An offer, but no deal as budget talks continue

Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, on Monday went back into closed-door budget negotiations after Gazelka came to the table with a new offer.

What appeared to be constructive talks slowly inching toward a compromise took a turn when Senate Republicans took a tougher stance against keeping a tax on medical providers.

Democrats have said they want to maintain a 2% tax on medical providers that helps fund health insurance coverage for low-income people. That is set to expire at the end of the year without legislative action.

Gazelka on Monday evening put forth an offer to raise spending in the GOP budget plan, but only on the condition that the provider tax expire.

Senate Republicans have said providers pass the cost down to patients, increasing the price of health care. Walz has said keeping the tax is one of his only non-negotiables.

“That piece of it is like the linchpin to make it all work. They have now at this hour, this close, put out the biggest of the red lines," Walz said. “I don’t have fair partners to work with right now.”

While Democrats put forth offers to ratchet down their proposed 20-cent-per-gallon tax increase on gasoline, Republicans said the proposal was a non-starter.

“We’ve always said that the gas tax is not an option," Gazelka said. “It’s a dead issue for us."

Democrats have proposed raising the tax on gasoline to fund road and bridge repairs and using general funds saved or raised by other taxes to boost state funding to public schools, health care programs and community prosperity efforts.

Republicans and Democrats on Monday both said they had the support of the public in pushing their respective budget proposals and committed to fighting for their respective priorities. For Republicans, that meant keeping state government trim and blocking new taxes. Democrats vowed to push for additional dollars for public schools and protect services that help children, seniors and those with disabilities.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the leaders would continue talks Monday night.

Minnesota moms make pitch to tackle insulin affordability

A group of Minnesota mothers on Monday made a final effort to convince lawmakers to make emergency insulin available to those who can't afford it.

The Minnesota House of Representatives included in its health and human services spending bill a proposal named after Nicole Smith-Holt's son Alec Smith, who died after he rationed insulin because he couldn't afford it. That measure would fund access to insulin for those with diabetes who can't afford the medication and are either uninsured or on high-deductible health plans.

By contrast, the Senate approved a narrower provision as part of its health and human services spending plan. Their proposal would cover a supply of emergency insulin for those who don't have insurance and can't afford the drug.

Advocates for Minnesotans with diabetes said they're encouraged to see the proposal included in both House and Senate plans, but they worry that lagging budget negotiations could doom the bill.

"Anybody that's got any policy that's wrapped up in an omnibus bill should be worried right now," Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, said.

A conference committee will determine which version of the proposal will advance.

Holt-Smith said she was hopeful that lawmakers could approve some iteration of the bill before the May 20 deadline to wrap up the legislative session. That date coincides with her son Alec's birthday.

"I can't think of a better birthday present for Alec than to have the governor of Minnesota sign the Alec Smith emergency insulin bill," Holt-Smith said.

Gun control bills coming up Tuesday

The conference committee aiming to reconcile differences between House and Senate public safety and judiciary spending bills is set to take up two gun control measures Tuesday.

The proposals would require background checks at the point of sale of a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon and allow law enforcement to remove a person's firearms if they are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.

Gazelka said the measures wouldn't pass in the Senate and for weeks warned DFL lawmakers against weaving them in and potentially risking an impasse over the spending bill.

House Democrats said they'd push to pass the measures.

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