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Rep. Paul Thissen

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Speech to the Minnesota Pipe Trades [Jun. 18th, 2008|03:33 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
Thank you for allowing me to speak to you for a few minutes. It has been a great pleasure to work with your groups and particularly Carl Crimmins and Tom Hansen before he retired on issues at the capitol.

During his 1960 campaign, John Kennedy spoke here in Minnesota and he defined the challenge facing the country this way:

The reason Minnesota has suffered recent recessions is because the economy has not been moving. Other countries have outproduced us economically, not because they have more capacity, but because they are using their capacity to the fullest. We have not used our economic capacity or the capacity of our citizens in an imaginative way. This country – and i would say this state – cannot possibly maintain itself unless it moves here at home, unless we maintain full employment and we meet our responsibilities to our own citizens.”

Kennedy was right. The key to our success; the key to our prosperity is making sure we use all our resources and every Minnesotan to his or her fullest capacity.

Minnesotans want to work; they value labor and skill. My family has been in the state since the 1860s working as farmers and laborers and teachers and railroadmen. Minnesotans are all about hard work.

We need to create a state where hard work and high skill can be put to good use.

And Kennedy was right about the path to that goal:

Imaginative leadership. Leadership that is willing to do things in a new way and create new partnerships that benefit everyone.

Leadership that is willing to take risks in order to honor the basic values of hard work and good jobs.

We all know the economy is not strong.

We all know that too many of your members are sitting on the bench. I’ve talked with many of them in all parts of the state.

And we know that the lack of work is not simply an immediate problem. It is about the next generation as well.

If we are going to have an economy that works in the future, we need strong apprenticeship programs and the resources to support it.

We need to keep bringing the next generation of skilled workers along and to do that, those young people need to see opportunity. I am afraid they do not see that now.

I was proud to have been one of two Minneapolis representatives to vote for the Twins stadium even though it was not popular because I knew it meant jobs and economic development.

I supported the Mall of America expansion because it meant good jobs.

But the projects do not only mean jobs. They will be assets for our state over the long haul.

And that is the key. We can create jobs and build our state at the same time.

We have tremendous challenges facing us in Minnesota.

All across the northside of Minneapolis and in many communities across the state, there are substandard houses. Our state should be investing and getting people to work to transform those communities with high quality housing. That’s good jobs and good for all of us.

All across this state, we are wasting energy and water because our buildings are built in the last century and are inefficient. Our state should be investing and getting people to work to make those buildings efficient for the 21st century. Good jobs and good for all of us.

Because at the end of the day, we are all in this together. Minnesota does best when it expands the winner’s circle to more and more people.

We need to work together – government hand in hand with you – to come up with new and creative ways to use our productive capacity – the skills and hard work of our citizens – in ways that benefit the whole state.

And we need to work urgently. I very much would like to continue a conversation and sit down with you and your leadership over the interim to discuss ways the state can
Help spur job growth and author those ideas next session.

We don’t have time to lose.

I know you understand that social compact. I was pleased to learn about your water’s off and heat’s on programs. Those efforts are precisely what makes minnesota such a great place to live.

Thanks for your service to our state.

I look forward to continuing to work together in the future.
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Families USA Report on the Individual Insurance Market [Jun. 12th, 2008|02:16 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
Families USA released today another important report on the state of health care and health coverage in Minnesota: Failing Grades: State Consumer Protections in the Individual Health Insurance Market.

From all across the state, the two concerns that I hear most are that health care is unaffordable and that people cannot get coverage due to a preexisting medical condition.

The bottom line is that Minnesota's current system discriminates against our sickest neighbors and friends -- those who need regular health care most -- who are forced to pay more for coverage (if they can get it). I was also shocked that insurance companies have broad latitude to revoke coverage after the fact if a serious medical condition exists. That is a health care system turned on its head.

I should also point out that Minnesota ranks very well on other measures and that is not just a pat on the back. There are serious proposals that the answer to our health insurance crisis is to simply open the door to any insurer who wants to sell its product in the state regardless of state law. This report makes clear the danger of that approach. Minnesotans do and should expect that certain standards be met when it comes to health care and health insurance. This report makes clear the important role that states play in making sure that happens.

One final note: The report criticizes Minnesota for not having a statutory loss ratio in Minnesota of 75% or greater. A loss ratio represents the minimum percentage of premium revenues collected that must be paid out for health care services. For example, a loss ratio of 60 means that an insurance company must pay at least 60% of its premiums to cover health care claims and may legally keep 40% for overhead, administration, etc.

In Minnesota, the statutory loss ratios in the individual market range from 60% to 72%. The reality, however, is that in 2006, Minnesota insurance companies paid out 93% of collected premiums in the individual market to cover health care claims. In 2005, insurance companies paid out 87% of collected premiums on health care expenses. The reports can be found here.
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Robert Kennedy Speech - Cleveland City Club 1968 [Jun. 5th, 2008|09:08 am]
Rep. Paul Thissen
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Session Summary [May. 24th, 2008|09:23 am]
Rep. Paul Thissen
The 2008 legislative session ended on Sunday, May 18, to the sound of fireworks for Minnesota's 150th birthday. The timing was fitting. The work we completed over the past several months is in line with our state's proud tradition of forward-thinking, practical policy-making that focuses on ideas rather than ideology.

I am most proud of my work as one of the chief architects of comprehensive health care reform; an effort the Star Tribune labeled the "prize" of the session. The legislation takes important steps to make high quality health care affordable to more Minnesotans. In addition, as a result of our work over the last two years, 100,000 more Minnesotans have health coverage.

The legislature also provided more money to our schools. Property taxes will be held down by expanding state aid to cities and counties and by expanding our program to provide direct relief to homeowners whose property taxes increased substantially. We set aside land for our first new state park in decades near Lake Vermillion.

We passed a historic transportation package that will add much needed dollars to our stressed highway system. And with the approval of funding for the Central Corridor rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, the long-term vision of an interconnected transit network throughout the metropolitan area took a major step forward.

Finally, the legislature balanced a nearly $1 billion deficit for the coming year. (Of course, serious work and perhaps serious trouble remain brewing in 2009 when we face another deficit that may exceed a billion dollars.)

In addition to that work, I was pleased to Chief Authored other important legislation that became law. The Abigail Taylor Pool Safety Act strengthens and broadens Minnesota's pool safety regulations to make sure all public pools in the state are designed to avoid serious injuries and death. The bonding bill included funding for Richfield's All Veterans Memorial. I am very much looking forward to the unveiling during the 4th of July festivities in Veterans Park.

All in all, it was a productive session that should set DFLers up well for big victories in the 2008 elections. Of course, we cannot make that happen without your help. Please volunteer when called, make a contribution if you can and actively support DFL candidates up and down the ballot. What we do in Minneapolis and Richfield to turn out in large numbers on election day will be critical in the Presidential and Senate races.

Let me close by saying how proud I am to serve Richfield and south Minneapolis in the Minnesota House of Representatives. I have always benefitted immensely from hearing your ideas, comments and concerns.
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Property Taxes tied to Imcome [May. 10th, 2008|01:37 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
The House Tax Committee proposed an entirely new approach to property tax relief from the state. The approach explicitly ties property tax relief to income. The goal is to make property taxes more progressive. One advantage from my perspective is that property tax relief is provided directly to individuals; not to local units of government in the form of Local Government Aid or LGA. LGA is important, but direct relief is the only guaranteed relief. [UPDATE: THE PROPOSAL DID NOT BECOME LAW]

I received some interesting comments on the proposal:

“My scenario (and that of many of my fellow Richfield-ites) is that I work hard to make a decent living. I choose to live in a modest home which allows me to be responsible and save for my children's eduction and my retirement. Also, this allows me to have enough of a savings/buffer to cover future property tax and utility expense increases. I am living below my means in order to be a fiscally responsible citizen. I do not feel it's fair that I will be further burdened from a tax perspective because I make over $100k/yr. Isn't this new tax proposal creating an incentive for people to live in houses that can barely (if not at all) afford? Also, increasing the tax burden on the productive members of society is damaging what makes this country of opportunity great.”

* * *

“It appears that [the proposal] would benefit me greatly. The selfishness in me would want this bill to become law. But I question why I would deserve to have some other taxpayer pay for my chosen lifestyle. I have a real fear of creeping socialism in this country. It seems that more people are not taking responsibilty for the decisions that they make and are electing a government that is prone to cradle to grave policies. Even JFK said ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’”

* * *

“What is the overall long term goal for this realignment? In my family's case, we actually loose the state property tax reduction, therefore ending up in the negative. I'm not sure how this bill would actually help my family, or families like mine. As a student of history, how has the state of MN takeover of property taxes actually helped local property taxes stay low in the long term? Isn't this just more of the same? How about a fundamental realignment of how you collect taxes, i.e. flat rate for everyone instead of this progressive, class warfare style of system.”

What do you think?
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Newborn Screening [Apr. 20th, 2008|10:58 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
This week, the House had a significant debate -- a deliberative debate in the truest sense of the word -- on my bill to amend Minnesota's newborn screening law. The bill imposes stronger requirements that Minnesota parents be given complete information about newborn screening than under the current newborn screening law.

Minnesota has had an extremely successful newborn screening program. In January, the state won a national award for its program. The state currently screens for over 50 heritable conditions. These conditions generally have four things in common:

1. The conditions are genetic. Most often, however, the parents do not know that they carry the particular genetic condition.

2. The condition is not apparent at birth.

3. The condition is dangerous. It can result in serious disability or death.

4. The condition is treatable if detected early.

Minnesota has had a newborn screening program since the 1960s. In 2003, the legislature enacted new standards governing disclosure and consent. The provisions are found in Minn Stat 144.125, subd. 3. In 2006, the legislature passed a general law governing genetic information and thereafter, an administrative law judge ruled that the 2006 law took precedence over the 2003 law. HF 3438/SF 3138 is intended to clarify that the legislature's specific protocol for newborn screening in fact should govern.

In addition, the legislation will add protections for families. Under the law when passed, families must be given a document informing them that blood samples may be retained by the Department of Health (federal law requires that the samples be kept for 24 months); the benefits and detriments of testing; the ways the samples will be stored and used in the future; and the right of the parents to opt-out of (1) the testing altogether or (2) use of the blood samples for disaggregated public health studies or research. In addition, the family may also request that the blood samples be destroyed after 24 months.

The heart of the debate is whether, instead of an opt-out provision, the state should require an opt-in with written consent. I have resisted that approach for two reasons. First, more families will choose not to get the test and, as a result, more children will die or face disability needelessly. Second, an opt-in or written consent requirement will interfere with important efforts to conduct quality assurance on current newborn screening tests and to develop new tests. In addition, it will detract from the reliability and validity of public health research using the blood samples. Notably, the research is conducted under the guidance of the Institutional Review Board.

The debate raised important and significant questions about genetic privacy. (There are those in the blogosphere who are badly misrepresenting the issues which is unfortunate.) In the end, however, we cannot allow the discussion to devolve into a false choice between parent's rights against public interest (and thanks to Rep. Winkler for identifying the child's rights as well). The reality is that the legislature and society in general attempt to strike a balance between or among competing rights all the time. Here, the interest in preventing and avoiding terrible childhood diseases and death must be weighed against the right to make an informed choice. In this case, the law will require that parents be given substantial information and significant rights to opt-out and have samples destroyed. I believe that the bill strikes the right balance.
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Affordability Standard [Apr. 11th, 2008|09:39 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
The health care reform bill that passed off the House floor last evening includes an affordability standard - a first in the country as far as I am aware. The provision sets a standard that no Minnesotan should be expected to pay more than a certain percentage of his or her income on health care. In many ways it is establishing for health care what has long existed regarding housing -- a family should not pay more than 30% of its income on housing.

The legislation establishes a sliding scale affordability standard that sets 6% of income as the cap at 300% of the federal poverty guideline and at 8% of income at 400% of the federal poverty guideline.

There was significant analysis underlying the establishment of this standard. More information can be found here.

But what does it mean practically. Here are some examples: For a single adult, 300% FPG is about $31,000. Six percent of $31,000 is $1,860 per year. The JOBS NOW COALITION has calculated that a metro area single adult will spend $18,228 per year on essentials of food (no meals out), housing, transportation and clothing. The number does not include life insurance or retirement savings; big ticket items like washers, dryers, other basic household repairs; no entertainment; no gifts.

In addition, a single adult making $31,000 will pay approximately $6400 in taxes. After accounting for those expenses and subtracting out 6% for health care, the individual will be left with about $12.50 per day for all other expenses. And I would reemphasize that the totals include NO SAVINGS for retirement which is simply creating a bigger disaster for all of us in the coming decades.

(As an aside, the average 27-year old single male adult will pay $3,622 for health insurance in a year for an individual policy. A 57 year old female will pay $6,112 -- about 20% of the person's income.)

Using a similar analysis, a single adult at 400% FPG will be left with $26 per day (or $12.50 a day of you factor in a minimal retirement savings).

A family of three at 300% of FPG (about $53,000) will pay $3,100 for health care under the 6% affordability standard. Using the same analysis, that family will be left with $8 a day to cover school expenses and activities, to save for college and to cover all the other "non-essential" expenses described above. A family of three at 400% will have about $13 left for everything else, assuming the family does save a minimal amount for retirement.

The point of the analysis should be clear: these affordability standards are not unreasonable when one considers the real lives of families in Minnesota. See this Familes USA Report for more information.
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Nursing Home Funding [Apr. 6th, 2008|02:39 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
Nursing homes again are a hot topic at the Capitol. And rightly so. The needs of people working long hours to provide care to our parents and grandparents are great and we must do better by them. As important, in many Minnesota towns, the nursing home and other long-term care facilities are pillars around which the community is sustained.

The discussion is frustrating nonetheless because it never really changes and gets mired in partisan fighting.

Recognizing the difficult financial constraints facing dozens of nursing homes across the state, the House DFL budget proposal includes an additional 2% increase in funding. But the additional money, while important, is not fully satisfying, particularly if one looks just a few years down the road. We need to break out of the cycle of forcing nursing homes and other long-term care providers to come to the state to beg for dollars every year.

We can achieve that goal with fresh thinking about state funding for long-term care services. The fact is that there are many different ways to serve older Minnesotans. The types of available services are constantly evolving. And the right mix of long-term care services will differ from one community to the next.

Today, the State does not honor that diversity of needs. There is little coordination among streams of money. The local nursing home might get renovation money if it meets one set of state-dictated criteria. Another community that satisfies different state rules might get money to support a senior meal program. But no one asks whether supporting a senior meal program in the first community might avoid the need to spend as much money renovating the nursing home. That makes no sense.

Instead, we should empower communities by removing restrictions on how they can spend long-term care dollars. If the local nursing home qualifies for renovation dollars, but it would be better for local residents in the long-run to spend the money to develop more robust community-based services, why not let that happen? And why not let the local community decide?

Demographic trends will overwhelm us if we continue our narrow debate about dollars and fail to consider how we can do things better. Certainly, the State of Minnesota needs to continue to invest in the care and support of older Minnesotans. But I firmly believe that the best path to a secure future for older Minnesotans lies in allowing individuals and communities to make local and regional choices about the best way to spend that money to meet the coming age-wave consistent with each community's unique needs. Let’s start that discussion today.
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Health Care Reform Press Conference [Apr. 5th, 2008|04:49 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
Health care reform has broad public support. Watch below:

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Photo Cop [Mar. 26th, 2008|03:43 pm]
Rep. Paul Thissen
Above all, red light cameras are about saving lives and avoiding injuries. I have heard too many stories of lives fundamentally and tragically changed because of brain injury, paralysis or death as a result of red-light runners. The state of Minnesota should use the reasonable tools at its disposal to make roads less dangerous.

Red-light cameras are effective public safety tools. During the several months that Minneapolis operated red-light cameras, accidents were reduced more than 30 percent, and T-bone crashes (the most dangerous kind of intersection accidents) dropped nearly in half. Cities across the country have seen similar reductions.

Second, we will not see red-light cameras installed at every intersection across the state. Local city councils must choose to install the cameras. Further, the legislation limits cameras to those intersections where an engineer has determined that a serious safety problem exists and alternative safety improvement measures would be not be effective to solve the problem. And any intersection with a red-light camera must be prominently marked with signs. Fair warning is an essential part of the legislation.

Moreover, unlike other surveillance cameras that surround us every day as we go to the bank, the local convenience store " or even the State Capitol, which has dozens of video cameras operating every day " red-light cameras only are triggered when a driver enters an intersection after a light has turned red. The only time a car's license would be photographed is after the driver breaks the law. And the photos are inspected by a licensed police officer before any citation is issued.

Critically, there are several ways that a person receiving a ticket can challenge it on the grounds he was not the driver. He can prove the car was stolen, leased or sold. More importantly, he can testify in court that someone else was driving and ran the red light.

The new law will not run afoul of the Constitution. The Minnesota Supreme Court struck down the Minneapolis ordinance because the ordinance conflicted with state law. That is not allowed under the so-called "uniformity" clause in the state constitution.

But the court did not determine " and, because running a red light is a petty misdemeanor under the bill, would not determine " that a state law authorizing cities to use automatic traffic-light enforcement to ticket cars running a red light violates due process rights. In fact, Minnesota has other laws, such as the prohibition on passing a school bus when the stop arm is out, which allows cars instead of drivers to be ticketed. Minnesota appellate courts have upheld those laws.

The bottom line is that red-light cameras have made and will make roads safer. They would do so without violating anyone's constitutional rights. We in Minnesota should welcome that possibility rather than fear it.
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