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< The magic mirror | Main | Social issues are "in" again >

Kumbaya at the Capitol

Posted at 7:07 PM on February 28, 2007 by Bob Collins (3 Comments)

Give me some stats -- usually baseball stats -- and eventually I'll play around with them a bit to figure out all sorts of weird things. So far this year, MFL work has taken so much time that I haven't been able to do as much analysis as I would like. That's starting to change as I've figured out how speed the daily happenings' points a little better and as committee deadlines are reached, fewer bills will be in play.

So, this week, seeing Rep. Kathy Tingelstad become the second Republican to crack the top 10 in the Power Rankings, and seeing Sen. Julie Rosen, Sen. David Senjem, and Sen. Paul Koering making big charges for their party in the points department, I got to thinking, "what's the state of bipartisanship these days?"

Now, of course, there are many ways to measure these sorts of things but, like I said, give me some stats and I'll at least make a dent. I tallied the number of bills filed (as defined by the MFL rules) and the numbers of bills that have passed committee (again, defined by the MFL rules) and found that the average DFLer in the Legislature has filed 69 bills and had an average of 28 committee passages. That's a success ratio (I just made that up) of 41% if you're scoring at home ("or even if you're alone," as Keith Olbermann used to say.)

The average Republican has filed 48 bills and 16% have passed.

Now, obviously, this is all, well, nonsense, because many of the bills passed have been authored by both Republicans and Democrats. There are very few, say, Republican-only bills going anywhere. On the other hand, bipartisanship is working together and bills with multiple-parties seem to be doing well. Senjem, Rosen, Tingelstad, Abeler, and Koering probably are the most prolific, it would seem, at working on legislation with their DFL counterparts.

From all accounts, the Senate in particular, has been remarkably bipartisan, so far, in its activities, which, I have to admit, surprises a lot of us -- OK, it surprises me -- since Sen. Larry Pogemiller, the Senate Majority Leader, really seemed to love going toe to toe with Republicans in previous sessions. But when he sent Sen. Tarryl Clark out to be the kinder, gentler "face" of the DFL -- even as she said pretty much the same stuff he would say -- that should've told me something.

What does all this mean? It means I'm sitting at work an hour later than usual just to play with a spreadsheet. But that's a whole 'nother essay.

Comments (3)

Team MILVETS cruised up to fourth place this week before sliding into fifth, and perhaps no one else noticed.

Kudos to Senator Rosen for a point surge this week, with Rep. Fritz and Sen. Vickerman also scoring many committee points.

My elation in the team's prowess was overshadowed by real world realities.

In a Capitol press conference Wednesday, Senator Vickerman choked on the news that three veterans died recently at the Minneapolis Veterans Home. Errors in managing their medications were revealed as possible factors.

This is very disturbing since I have witnessed, in senate committee meetings open to the public, the hard work of Legislative leaders to provide the resources necessary for the 5 Veterans Homes operated by the State of Minnesota to fulfill their mission to Minnesota's veterans.

In 2006, the legislature appropriated additional monies to the Minnesota Veterans Homes. The $6 Million appropriation included $4 Million that I thought was supposed to be used to resolve staffing shortages at the Minneapolis home.

This significant increase should have funded additional skilled nursing staff (RNs, LPNs) to resolve staffing shortages that resulted from a stagnant budget with no increases for operating expenses from 2000-2006 due to state funding constraints.

But in Senate committee testimony this year, Minnesota Veterans Home Board Chair Jeff Johnson reported on hiring painters and purchasing bladder monitoring equipment. Well, obviously (at least to us dizzy blonde farm girls), that is not an effective way to prevent patients from getting bedsores. Committee Chair of the Agriculture and Veterans Committee, Senator Vickerman, told Johnson, a resident in his senate district 22, that he didn't have another year to get the home turned around. Johnson was resistant to the suggestion of arbitration between management and the nurses’ labor union. The Minneapolis Home remains under the direction of an interim director while a nationwide search looks for new leadership.

In their testimony, the nurses appeared frustrated that their recommendations to increase the direct care skilled nursing staff seemed to be falling on deaf ears. As Committee Chairs, Senators Vickerman (Agriculture & Veterans) and Berglin (Health & Human Services) have given a high level of attention to the Minnesota Veterans Homes. Freshman Senator Sharon Ropes Erickson, a military veteran with experience as a Navy nurse, sits on both committees and visited the Minneapolis Veterans Home in January after hearing the committee testimony to personally visit with staff members and observe residents.

Unfortunately, the good work of the legislature is negated by a Veterans Home Board and a management that does not apply the appropriation in a manner that resolves their deficiencies. Like the cliché, ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’

Well, it's a federal issue, now that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is threatening to cut off Federal funding of $7 Million annually for Minnesota homes that don’t meet federal standards. How will Minnesota compensate for a funding shortfall of $7 Million if the federal government fulfills their threat to discontinue funding? MFL bake sales? Or will they close the Minneapolis Veterans Home, the state’s largest, for management inability to meet state and federal standards, and keep operating the other 4 homes?

Well, the governor has a solution to this dilemma, and it’s an interesting one. Create a new commission. Hire a consultant. Have Minnesota Health Department staff monitor and intervene in resident care.

The press release from the governor’s office stated: ‘Yesterday, Governor Pawlenty directed the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to send staff into the facility to monitor operations, and intervene in patient care activities as necessary. In addition, the Governor and Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach are directing the Veterans Home to hire an outside long term care consultant within two weeks. The consultant will be able to assume responsibility for day-to-day operation of the facility.’

“The chronic problems at the Minneapolis Veterans Home are unacceptable to me and to all Minnesotans,” Governor Pawlenty said. “We are taking immediate action to improve the situation and long term action to fix the way the system works. Our veterans deserve excellent care and we won’t stop until we’ve achieved that goal.”

The Health commissioner is an appointee of the governor. The Veterans Home Board Members are appointed by the governor. In the MPR broadcast, the governor called board members ‘Well intentioned.”

On Wednesday, Pawlenty also signed an order setting up a commission to consider "the best approach for the future operation, management, administration and governance of the Veterans Home." The new commission provides for some 'diversity' with some of the appointees coming from Legislative leaders.

Commissioner Mandernach plans to hold at least two meetings at the Minneapolis home next week, one for residents and another for families, according to the Star Tribune. "I want to tell them what we're doing, and I want to listen," she said.

Does anyone plan to listen to the nurses that currently provide the direct care to the residents?

Posted by Nancy G | March 2, 2007 7:40 AM

Read the AP story on the press conference on the Minnesota Veterans Homes held by the Senators at the Capitol on Wednesday 28 Feb 2007 at this link.

The MPR website also allows for comments on news stories.

Posted by Nancy G | March 2, 2007 8:54 AM

Posted by Nancy G | March 2, 2007 11:57 AM