ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers working to provide insulin for uninsured diabetics or those who can't afford the hormone on Tuesday, April 7, announced they'd reached an agreement on an emergency insulin proposal.
And depending on whom you asked, it appeared poised to pass through the Legislature and be signed into law next week.
But stakeholders said to be at the table striking a negotiation on the plan a day earlier had a public dust-up at the Capitol as Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, attempted to tout the bill negotiated between five senators and three House Democrats as a deal.
"Just when you thought it might not happen, it happened," Jensen said during a hastily called news conference in the Capitol rotunda. "I feel like I've been going on 48-72 hours on "Let's Make a Deal" ... We've got a deal. Minnesota's going to lead in providing insulin to all people that are in need."
The effort to establish a program to get free insulin for Minnesotans who couldn't afford it has been going on for months and after lawmakers last year came up short of approving legislation to set up a program, legislative leaders this year prioritized the bill. Lawmakers in the House and Senate approved differing plans early on in the legislative session and they were on a fast track to be approved before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Minnesota.
But as the illness caused by the coronavirus spread across the country and the state, responding to the pandemic became a top concern for state lawmakers. And while work on the insulin plan continued, much of the discussion happened outside the public eye.
Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said she expected a bill could come up for a vote next week, but she didn't offer details about the plan. And she didn't suggest it was expected to pass in the House of Representatives.
Tuesday afternoon, Hortman, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, and Rep. Michael Howard, D-Richfield, looked on as Jensen told reporters that he wanted to see the bill come up for a vote Tuesday, but House leaders didn't agree to take it up alongside a workers' compensation proposal.
The conference committee tasked with ironing out differences between the two versions of the bill reached a tentative agreement Monday night, he said.
During the news conference, Winkler stood behind Jensen, in the frame of a livestream taped by the Senate Republican Caucus, and flipped up his middle finger toward the camera. Winkler had been one of the House lawmakers working on negotiations behind the scenes.
Winkler on Twitter apologized for the action later, saying it was wrong to use that gesture. He said he felt it was also wrong that Senate Republicans attempted to take credit for the bipartisan legislation after blocking it in 2019.
And after Jensen wrapped up, Hortman took the mic and aimed to tell her side of the story. To come back to approve legislation in the Senate and House on the same day, a certain threshold of support is required, she said, and that requires Republican and Democratic votes.
"This bill did not meet that very high bar in time," Hortman said, "it could hopefully have everyone's approval so that we can proceed when we come back on the 14th."
Republican conferees hadn't been involved in agreeing to the revised legislation, Howard, who authored the House version of the bill, said. And he didn't want to assume that all House members of the conference committee would accept the changes.
"Until we have the signatures on the bottom line from both the Senate and the House, we don't have a deal," Howard said. "But I am optimistic that we can obtain that moving forward and pass the bill next week."
A draft of the bill was not available Tuesday, but lawmakers said it would rely on insulin supplies provided by manufacturers to provide the hormone so that it could be distributed to uninsured Minnesotans and low-income individuals. And a fine would be imposed on companies that failed to provide insulin for the emergency and non-emergency programs.