A provision stuck onto a Republican-authored bill during Minnesota’s one day budget special session this past July may mean death for seriously ill undocumented workers. The law which goes into effect on January 1, 2012 prevents undocumented immigrants from receiving medical care under Minnesota’s Emergency Medical Assistance program.
Immigrant rights groups, community leaders and Representative Karen Clark (DFL-St. Paul) are calling on Governor Mark Dayton to take executive action to assure that nobody dies because of the law change.
About half of the people who would lose their medical care are in Hennepin County according to Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. ”It’s an impact of 22 million dollars on lost emergency medical assistance in Hennepin County alone. So we’re really worried about folks who are in nursing homes, folks who are on dialysis, chemotherapy, have a serious mental illness or rely on emergency medical assistance for their care and for their medication and they will lose that on January first.”
County officials are scrambling to notify people who have only until tomorrow (Thursday December 30) to file an appeal with the Department of Human Services to prevent a cutoff of lifesaving services. Complicating the matter is many of the people don’t speak English.
If funding is cut off, it is possible hospitals will have to absorb the cost of providing care to the undocumented immigrants said Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL 65B). “But frankly its very unfair for them to have to do that, because it makes it harder for them to provide medical care for everyone in the community.”
Representative Karen Clark (DFL-61A) says Governor Dayton has told her he is “distressed” to find out this was in the omnibus budget bill. “So it’s clear that most of us who would never support this, including the Governor on any full blown discussion were taken a bit by surprise.”
So how did such a draconian provision get inserted into a major budget bill, get passed and then signed by Governor Dayton?
The authors of the bill Jim Abeler (R- Anoka) , Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud), Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), all Republican, were not at the news conference to answer that question.
Representative Mariani was on the House floor when the bill passed and he was not aware of the provision. “We couldn’t look at the bill drafts that the Republican majority were offering. We saw this one and including others for the very very first time in its entirety at 11 o’clock at night on the night of the special session. And then we have one or two hours to quickly try to debate it. And so we caught some things absolutely . But then there are lots of things we didn’t and weren’t able to catch and this is one of them.”
Linda Gawboy of the Welfare Rights Committee tried to find out what was in the bill during the one day special session, but could not. “We were up watching the session until 2 in the morning, in fact on The UpTake, and going and scrambling to get a summary of this bill. There was nothing available to the public. What was available to the public was one sentence, saying ‘amending certain provisions.’ That was it.”
“We want this law stopped. We want the Governor to issue an executive order to stop the cutoffs. We want the courts to do something to stop this. And here’s why: These laws, if they go into effect, will not just kill people, before they kill people they’re going to torture people. Imagine the feeling of dialysis being stopped…how long before the pain sets in. How long before you get so sick that you’re waiting to slip into that coma.”
“This is one of the reasons we should never have these kinds of special session,” says Representative Mariani. “There was absolutely no budget approved at the end of the regular session. There was a lot of politicking on all sides putting the pressure to get something done and the something done is really big stuff, right? Big omnibus bills to fund all of government. And you normally a regular session and spend months engaging the citizenry about what the final bill should look like. In a special session you literally only have hours to do that. Which means those who write the bills are the only ones who know what’s in the bills. ”