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Legislative Notebook: Bills would keep toxic chemicals away from children

ST. PAUL — A revived movement to keep Minnesota children safe from toxic chemicals is beginning in the Legislature.

Three bills are aimed at removing chemicals such as formaldehyde and bisphenol A from products children use.

“There is nothing we need to do more ... than protect our children,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said. “The science is on our side on this.”

“As a mother, I know parents are concerned about the chemicals their kids are exposed to,” added Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove. “The last thing a parent should have to worry about is harmful chemicals in their kids’ food.”

A bill Persell wrote would ban formaldehyde from children’s personal care products. Items that contain formaldehyde include some brands of bubble bath, shampoo and soap.

Bisphenol A, which lawmakers already banned from many products, remains in some baby food jar lids, canned food containers and infant formula cans.

Members of the Healthy Legacy coalition say non-toxic products are available to replace those that threaten children’s health.

“Giving BPA (bisphenol A) to a child is like giving them a cigarette, but done unintentionally,” Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said.

Persell said many manufacturers are dropping toxic chemicals from children’s products on their own. “Industry is being much more responsive.”

Medicaid expansion OK’d

The federal Medicaid program, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance, will add 35,000 low-income Minnesotans to its health-care coverage after state senators Thursday voted 45-22 for the expansion.

The federal government promises to pay most of the expenses needed for the expansion. Democrats who control the Legislature turned back Republican efforts that would have required reports to key lawmakers if federal payments fall short of what is promised.

“There are some of us who are not in a trusting mood,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said.

Backers of the bill say it will save the state $366 million in the next four years.

Minnesota doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers would get $1.8 billion more in the next two years and $2.5 billion in the following two years if the bill passes, backers say.

The House passed the bill 71-56 on Monday and Gov. Mark Dayton supports it.

IRRRB changes

Minnesota legislators are looking into dropping citizens from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

One House committee passed a bill doing that Thursday, sending it to another committee, while senators included the provision in a bill they passed.

The bill takes three citizens members off the IRRRB board, Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said, and adjusts requirements for lawmakers who sit on it. The board would be made up only of legislators.

After new legislative district lines were drawn last year, some Iron Range lawmakers no longer qualify to be on the board. They are required to have half of their districts in the Iron Range Taconite Assistance Area, but with larger districts some do not meet that mark.

Melin’s proposal is to allow Range legislators with a third of their districts in the taconite area to serve.

The bill, which passed a House committee on a split voice vote Thursday, has at least one more committee stop before it reaches a full House vote. Several committee members did not like the idea of taking citizens off the panel.

“We don’t have a board right now,” IRRR Commissioner Tony Sertich said, urging lawmakers to rush the bill through.

The agency provides economic development programs for the northeastern Minnesota Iron Range.

Foreclosure help

A bill written to protect some homeowners from foreclosures is moving through House committees.

The bill by state Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, would not allow a lender to take foreclosure action while discussing modifying a mortgage with the homeowner. It also would force lenders to provide one point of contact for homeowners facing foreclosure.

House OKs mediation

Lenders would continue to be required to enter into mediation before foreclosing or repossessing farms after the House Thursday voted 124-5 to continue the program.

The Senate has not acted on the bill.

The Farmer-Lender Mediation Act first passed during the farm financial crisis in 1986 and has been reapproved every few years since then. It requires lenders to enter into mediation when a farmer owes at least $5,000 but cannot pay off a loan.

Without action this year, the act is to expire in June.

Contracts approved

Contracts with five state employee groups received an 83-44 House approval Thursday.

The Senate earlier favored it 40-25.

The contracts include a general 2 percent wage increase for employees, starting retroactively from Jan. 2. But some workers could receive different changes, depending on scheduled increases and other factors.

Health care benefits would not change.

Agencies would absorb the $76.2 million increased cost for 2013.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.