SENATOR SEAN R. NIENOW

Proudly Serving District 32 Chisago and Isanti Counties
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100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Room 105
St. Paul, MN 55155-1206
651.296.5419


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WELCOME

Welcome! Thank you for visiting my legislative web page. Here, you will find updates on the legislative session as well as other resources that may be helpful to you.

It is an honor to serve the people of District 32. I am dedicated to promoting the principles that you and I share. My office is here to assist you with any constituent needs you may have. Feel free to call the office at 651-296-5419 or email me at sen.sean.nienow@senate.com.

My Legislative Assistant is in the office during regular hours should you need to contact me or make an appointment. The phone number is 651-296-6200.

Minnesota is a wonderful place to live. Together, you and I can preserve our high quality of life for generations to come!

Sincerely,

Sean

 

Published: 04/11/2014

April 11, 2014

Greetings from the Capitol!

At the midway point of the 2014 Legislative Session, below are some highlights…..

Minimum Wage

Minnesota Senate Republicans supported a plan to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage from $6.15 to $7.25 per hour, matching the federal minimum wage and putting the state in line with neighboring states. The proposal was rejected by Democrats who are in the majority, who insisted on a much higher rate of $9.50 per hour. Based on nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office numbers, that will result in 8,000 to 9,000 fewer jobs in Minnesota. Border areas, like the district I represent will face particular challenges when businesses near the border will be required to have tens of thousands of dollars more cost compared to their competitors across the border.

Senate Building

Recently passed Senate legislation will build an unnecessary new Senate Legislative Office Building that is a prime example of more questionable spending. The Democrat majority in the Senate ignored public objections and put taxpayers on the hook for a $90 million Senate Office Building without giving the public consideration to more cost-effective alternatives.

Anti-Bullying Bill

Unfortunately, the House this week concurred with the Senate and passed the final form of an anti-bullying bill. The legislation will expose our schools to potential lawsuits (a similarly worded law in NJ already is facing a 1st Amendment lawsuit), forces a $19 million per year unfunded mandate on our schools, lacks any requirement for parental notification or involvement, reduces freedom of speech and shifts local control to state bureaucrats. The anti-bullying legislation was not requested by our schools - and most schools say they don't need or want it. I supported a reasonable alternative that would have fixed all those problems, but it was rejected on a party line vote in the Senate.

The anti-bullying legislation goes against what most of people want from their schools: parental empowerment and important decisions made by local parents and trusted officials in their school districts. The only step left to citizens who object to the anti-bullying legislation is to contact Governor Dayton's office and request a veto.

Supplemental Budget

This week the Minnesota Senate passed a large supplemental budget bill that increases last years pending increase, passed by the DFL controlled legislature, by another 10%. The bill spends $209 million now, and skyrockets to $742 million in future budgets.
 
Republicans offered an amendment that would have simplified the bill to focus on two bipartisan budget priorities, including road maintenance and a 5% increase for caregivers of the disabled and elderly. That amendment received unanimous Republican support, but failed to gain enough democrat votes to pass. Reasonable spending that benefits the whole state is beneficial, but this bill asks for too much and I’m concerned it will put a strain on future budgets.
 
One thing the bill does is plug the hole left by last year’s budgeting shift, enacted in order for the state to afford ObamaCare. In the 2013 budget bill, $400 million was shifted from the Health Care Access Fund to pay for the expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare. The success of that program is in question, as the Dayton administration has been unable to determine if any (or how many) newly insured people are enrolled in the state’s troubled healthcare exchange.
 
Last year we were told the budget enacted by Democrats, who control the entirety of state government right now, was clean and free of shifts and gimmicks. Unfortunately that was not true, and now $400 million that could have been used for beneficial things like tax relief for working families, had to be used to fix last year's budget shift gimmick. Unfortunately, beyond that, this shift 'fix' will still leave a $250 million shortfall in future budgets.

MNsure

The MNsure enrollment deadline has passed. I and other GOP members of the MNsure oversight committee recently raised concerns regarding the failure of the Dayton administration to fulfill the promises made while bringing ObamaCare to Minnesota.

We have asked the Governor to take action now that the March 31, 2014 enrollment deadline has passed:

  • Reveal how many uninsured Minnesotans now have coverage
  • Come clean about MNsure operations
  • Disclose how much premiums will increase when rates are released in September 2014, rather than waiting until mid-November to release that information

A main concern is the lack of MNsure balance between public and private plans, and also between younger, healthy enrollees and others. That imbalance is likely to result in higher premiums for all insurance, and has resulted in budget deficits for MNSure. The federal government launched an investigation into Governor Dayton and Democrats’ implementation of ObamaCare in Minnesota. A portion of a letter issued to Governor Dayton from U.S. Representative Darrell Issa on March 28, 2014 reads:

“It’s clear that the Minnesota exchange has failed to live up to expectations. Despite receiving over $155 million in federal grants to set up its ObamaCare exchange, the exchange has managed to enroll only approximately 38,000 people. Put differently, for every person enrolled by the exchange, federal taxpayers gave the state approximately $5,000.”

In addition, the non-partisan Legislative Auditor is now in process of two separate investigations/audits of MNsure use of funding and their operations.

Thank you to everyone who has visited the Capitol! It was a pleasure to meet with you.

Published: 04/07/2014

Healthcare Freedom is worth Fighting For

Monday, March 31st was the official deadline to enroll for Obamacare/MNsure. Minnesotans may no longer buy private insurance unless they: qualify for medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare, have a qualifying life event or are a small employer enrolling through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Therefore, people who have not enrolled in Obamacare/MNsure will have to wait until November 15, 2014 to enroll, and the earliest one will receive health insurance is January 1, 2015. The 2014 federal penalty for not having insurance is $95 or 1% of annual income above the tax filing threshold – whichever is greater. MNsure’s own economists estimate that nearly 50,000 Minnesotans will be fined. Obamacare/MNsure advocates are not being straightforward about the fact that over 70% of enrollees are on public assistance programs, which means that they are not private market, full premium paying individuals. We need to do everything we can to minimize damages from Obamacare/MNsure. This should be the legislature’s top priority, because all Minnesotans have been affected in some way by the healthcare law changes:

  • 240,000 Minnesotans lost their existing health insurance plan because of President Obama and Governor Dayton’s broken promise that you could keep your plan.
  • Minnesota families and seniors are seeing their premiums and deductibles rise.
  • People were forced to abandon their life-long doctor because of limited choices.
  • $160 million taxpayer dollars were wasted on a website that is still not fully working, and many forms still being processed on paper.

While this is happening, Obamacare/MNsure officials have been allowed to keep their excessive bonuses. Goals for private plans, young people, and small businesses are still far off the mark – MNsure tried to hide enrollment problems by providing an extension to people who “got in line” before the deadline. Nobody knows how many previously uninsured people have been covered - which was the point of Obamacare/MNsure in the first place. The good news is Minnesota had a great healthcare system, with over 90% of citizens covered. Minnesotans can have this again – we only need to empower consumers rather than government bureaucracy.

Published: 04/07/2014

Senator Nienow Supports School Safety Policies that

Empower Parents and Students

Parents, teachers, and principals are best equipped to protect all students.

(St. Paul, MN…) Yesterday the Minnesota Senate passed a controversial anti-bullying bill that allows parents to be cut out of the communications loop when their child is being bullied or is accused of bullying in school. The bill also failed to win the support of the Minnesota School Board Association, even after a year of negotiation and undergoing multiple revisions.

 “Protecting our students’ ability to learn in school is something everyone can get behind, but parents should always be included when their students’ safety is concerned. I fear that without a strong parental notification requirement, this law will not protect our kids,” said Senator Nienow.

I voted in favor of an amendment to strengthen current anti-bullying laws, which:

Includes strong parental notification requirements at the beginning, middle, and end of any bullying investigation, for parents of both bullied students and alleged offenders.

  • Is supported by the Minnesota School Board Association.
  • Received an A++ rating from the national website BullyPolice.org.
  • Was referenced by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson as a model to replicate. Is patterned after tested legislation that has worked in other states.

The amendment ultimately failed to win support of the Democrat controlled Senate.

“School safety is a non-controversial issue, and I supported an amendment that would have kept parents at the center of any conversation about their kids. It’s unfortunate that the amendment didn’t receive enough bipartisan support to pass,” added Senator Nienow.

Other controversial aspects of the bill that passed today include:

  • The addition of a million dollar taxpayer-funded School Climate Council and a School Climate Center within the Minnesota Department of Education that will be charged with implementing and enforcing the new law.
  • A new $19 million cost per year to local school districts, which was not funded.
  • Additional rules that make it harder for elected school boards to craft anti-bullying and student safety policies that fit their district.
  • A list of demographic groups who will receive special protection under the law, raising concerns that students who don’t fall under one of these categories will not be equally protected.

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Published: 03/28/2014

Common Sense Solutions Missing

Extravagance for the Elite Sends Wrong Message to Taxpayers

Minnesotans are practical people who appreciate common sense solutions to problems. You would think that the people’s elected representatives would epitomize that Midwestern value, but in the case of the $90 million Senate Office Building, Governor Dayton and Senate Democrats have chosen the opposite route.

Let’s say you were renovating your home; where would you live during the temporary construction? You could find an apartment, or you could move your family into another area of the house. Both scenarios would create an inconvenience; perhaps the kids would have to share a bedroom and some furniture would be placed in storage, but Minnesota families would hang tough and make it work.

During the Capitol renovation in the coming years, Governor Dayton and Democrats are doing exactly what Minnesota families would not do, by building a brand new house across the street. Not only will the extravagant Senate Office Building be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, it will cost taxpayers well over $1 million per Senate office! With heated parking and 60% more office space for the Governor, their plans far exceed common sense.

Democrats have had many opportunities to remedy their mistake, but they refuse to acknowledge that there’s even a problem. I, on the other hand, helped introduce a bill to repeal this unnecessary spending. We resolve to make the common sense decisions that your family would make. I will gladly live with a temporary office in St. Paul in order to protect the interests of Minnesotans in the rest of the state.

Published: 03/21/2014

Senate Republicans put “Families First” Plan – Propose Permanent Sales Tax Cut

It has been another full week at the Capitol - Republicans in the Minnesota Senate announced this week a comprehensive plan to account for the projected $1.2 billion surplus by placing “Families First.” The plan is a permanent half-percent cut to the state sales tax, reducing it from 6.875 to 6.375. The sales tax reduction builds on Republican efforts to fully repeal the unnecessary consumer tax increased passed in 2013 and conform the state income tax system to the federal government. Republicans also announced support for a $200 million one-time infusion into the transportation spending – specifically, roads and bridges. When the budget surplus was announced in February – Republicans voiced support for repealing the business to business taxes, provide full conformity on income tax reductions, repealing the gift tax and fully funding the 5% Campaign.

The State Senate passed a tax bill today that includes some immediate relief for overtaxed Minnesotans, but still results in a net $1.7 billion tax increase for the budget cycle. The tax bill corrects only a few of the mistakes the Democrats majority passed last year when they raised taxes by $1.84 billion. Governor Dayton agreed with the Democrats last year and now agrees with the Republicans – these taxes are excessive and need to be repealed.

The Republican plan for tax relief, reduction and federal tax conformity makes sense – it offers permanent tax relief for Minnesota families. The Democrats refuse to go this route. The passage of this bill provides $431 million in tax relief, which is only 1/3 of the current budget surplus. Therefore, we now have minimal tax relief to Minnesotans and an excessive amount of money in the governments control to spend.

I will continue to work on your behalf at the Capitol.

Published: 03/14/2014

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As your State Senator in St. Paul, I want to keep you informed on important issues happening at the Capitol…..

On Tuesday, March 11th a controversial proposal to address bullying in public schools was debated and amended by the Senate Education Policy Committee. While some amendments were adopted to make administration of the law simpler, a number of other amendments pertaining to protection of student rights, parent involvement, and local control rather than unfunded state mandates were turned down leading to a divided vote on passage. The legislation has been re-referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. The bill still falls short of my support – because it has the following problems:

 This bill requires school districts to spend money that would be better used in the classroom educating our kids.

  • The list of enumerated classes of bullying conduct remains in the bill (i.e. "color, creed...sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression"), which means that kids who are “just different” aren’t as protected as those who fall under one of the protected classes.
  • Emphasis on "preventive measures," "valuing diversity," and "sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression" make it likely that a controversial social agenda and curriculum will result.
  • There is complexity in understanding definitions and terms, and potential legal liability for incorrectly applying the law to students and/or situations.
  • There is a reliance on top-down state government involvement, which doesn’t give school districts the flexibility to create policies that work locally (for example, the state model policy, the state school climate center and council, and authorizing the state commissioner to withhold school funding).
  • An amendment that would protect students’ First Amendment rights was defeated. This bill doesn’t do enough to ensure that kids can follow their conscience and speak freely at school.
  • The bill does not have the support of the School Board Association.
  • While some changes have been made to make the law easier for school administrators - nothing was done to address the concerns of parents and students.
  • Everyone agrees on wanting to protect kids at school, it’s reasonable to expect that the final bill should be thoroughly vetted and bipartisan. We should keep working until this bill is non-controversial.

This legislation is very important to our district – I support anti-bullying efforts of local schools – however, we want a final bill to be bi-partisan. While some changes have been made to make the law easier for school administrators, not much was done to address the concerns of parents and students. You can count on me to bring reasonable and responsible solutions to running the great state of Minnesota and to stand for your rights. I welcome your feedback and ideas. You can contact me by email or phone at 651-296-5419 or Sen.Sean.Nienow@senate.mn.

Published: 03/12/2014

Memorial Highway named after fallen soldier, Nicholas Patrick Spehar

(St. Paul, MN.) – Senator Sean Nienow’s (R-Cambridge) legislation S. F. 2035, Nicholas Patrick Spehar Memorial Highway bill, passed the Senate Transportation Policy Committee and was sent directly to the Senate floor for passage. U.S. Highway 8, from the southwestern border of Chisago City to the eastern border of Center City, will be designated as “Nicholas Patrick Spehar Memorial Highway.” Nicholas Patrick Spehar, Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) was a 2005 graduate of Chisago Lake High School and was killed on August 6, 2011 in a helicopter crash in Wardak province, Afghanistan, that killed 30 American troops. His decorations include Army Commendation Medal, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medals, Good Conduct Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Rifle and Pistol Marksmanship Medal.  

"Everyone who knew Nicholas can't speak highly enough of his character. He exemplified the best characteristics of our special forces, with his determination to give 110% to every endeavor and dedication to protecting those back home. He is a hero to all Minnesotans, and it will be an honor to memorialize him in this way," said Senator Nienow.

Published: 08/13/2013

 

Minnesota State Legislators Hold Business Owners Town Hall Meeting

August 12, 2013

 (ST. PAUL) – Four state legislators met with local business owners on August 7th at Stars and Strikes Entertainment Center to discuss the past legislative session and listen to ideas and concerns from area business owners and managers.

Senator Sean Nienow and Representatives Bob Barrett, Brian Johnson and Bob Dettmer each gave a short recap of the past legislative session with a particular focus on the state budget and the over $2 billion tax and fee  increases which began kicking in with the new budget on July 1.

Taxes and health insurance concerns about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) implementation of the new state insurance exchange were among the most discussed issues. Senator Nienow said, "I was pleased to see the level of interest by those who own, or manage local businesses that employ area residents. It's clear from the concerns I heard at the meeting, that the nearly $2.5 Billion in tax and fee increases passed this last session are going to have a negative impact on their ability to create and retain jobs for local residents. I will do what I can to send that message to Democrat legislative leaders, and I hope they will listen and be open to revisiting onerous regulations and high taxes so that local employers can create more jobs for our families."

Representative Dettmer talked about how the new Warehouse Tax was affecting businesses in his district (District 39A) and said he enjoyed discussing the various issues with those in attendance Wednesday and looks forward to future meetings. Representative Bob Barrett said, “We heard loud and clear that raising taxes to fund a 10% increase in government spending will not help businesses succeed.”

Several new taxes were discussed including the Wheelage Tax (also known as the family car tax), recently passed by the Chisago County Board of Commissioners, property taxes and a telecommunications tax.  “The telecommunication tax will affect repairs and upgrades in greater Minnesota. This is a concern for both residents and businesses,” said Representative Brian Johnson.

The business owners’ town hall was the 5th of six town hall meetings held by District 32 legislators this summer.

Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes most of Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at sen.sean.nienow@senate.mn.

 

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Published: 07/11/2013

Senator Sean Nienow Appointed to Teacher Licensure Advisory Task Force

 

July 10, 2013

 

(ST. PAUL) – State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) has been appointed to the Teacher Licensure Advisory Task Force. The Teacher Licensure Advisory Task Force was established to make recommendations to the Board of Teaching, the education commissioner, and the education committees of the legislature on requirements for: teacher applicants to demonstrate mastery of reading, writing, and mathematics skills through nationally normed assessments, a professional skills portfolio, or accredited

college coursework, among other methods of demonstrating skills mastery; and an alternative licensure pathway for nonnative English speakers seeking licensure to teach in a language immersion program.

“I am pleased Senate Leadership values my knowledge and expertise by appointing me to the Task Force. My commitment to ensuring the children of Minnesota have the best possible education and opportunities is why I continue to devote time and energy to serve on the Education Committee and these additional boards, “said Senator Nienow.

In addition to the Teacher Licensure Task Force, Senator Nienow also serves on the MNSure Legislative Oversight Committee, the Nonemergency Medical Transportation Advisory Committee, Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board, and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Midwestern Legislative Conference on the Education Committee.

Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes most of Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, 100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at sen.sean.nienow@senate.mn.

 

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Published: 06/21/2013

 

Senator Sean Nienow Appointed to MNSure Legislative Oversight Committee

June 21, 2013

(ST. PAUL) – State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) has been appointed to the MNSure Legislative Oversight Committee. MNSure is the name for the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace (insurance exchange) established under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Legislative Oversight Committee was established to provide oversight to the implementation and operation of the insurance exchange. The committee will review the operations of the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace and recommend necessary changes in policy, implementation, and statutes to the board and to the legislature.

“I am pleased Senate Leadership values my knowledge and expertise by appointing me to the committee charged with oversight of MNSure, the Minnesota health insurance exchange. The exchange is an important element of an historic overhaul of the health care system. Regardless of people’s opinions of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, it is the law of the land and the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace is how those not insured by their employer will access the available options for health insurance. I will do my best to ensure proper legislative oversight of MNSure, “said Senator Nienow.

The Legislative Oversight Committee is made up of five members of the Minnesota Senate and five members of the Minnesota House of Representatives, three of which come from the majority party and two from the minority.

Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes the Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, 100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at sen.sean.nienow@senate.mn.

 

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Published: 05/24/2013

 

LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS – SENATOR S NIENOW SAYS HARD WORKING TAXPAYERS ALL PAY MORE FOR WASTEFUL GOVERNMENT SPENDING

$3 billion in new government spending makes Minnesota’s budget the largest in state history

May 21, 2013

(St. Paul, MN) – On Monday, May 20, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned and completed its work on the state’s budget for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. The budget plan, passed largely with Democrat support includes $2.1 billion in a variety of new taxes and closes a $627 million budget deficit, for total state spending of $38.3 billion, the largest budget in state history. This is an 8.1% increase over current state spending. State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge), voted in opposition to the tax plan that increases an array of sales, income, and business taxes.

"If you remember one thing about this legislative session, it’s that every hard working taxpayer will pay more in higher taxes for increased wasteful and inefficient government spending under the Democrats’ plan. Minnesotans deserve a budget that protects hardworking taxpayers, not abuses them," said Senator Nienow.

New items that will be taxed in the final plan pushed by Governor Dayton and Democrat leaders include new sales taxes on internet purchases, digital downloads like iTunes and eBooks, car rentals (nearly 50% tax increase), storage facilities and equipment repair for businesses, and telecom equipment. Additionally, cigarettes will see a $1.60 per pack sales tax increase. Adding insult to injury, more of the people’s hard earned money will be spent in fees on state services such as driver’s license transaction fees, vehicle title fees and other fees thereby adding millions more to an already heavy tax burden on Minnesotans.

Senator Nienow continued, "Why did the Democrat Majority raise $2.1 billion in new taxes to remedy a $627 million deficit? We can – and should- be doing a better job for taxpayers to make sure state government is more efficient and effective. We don’t need to spend more, we need to spend smarter."

Senator Nienow worked hard for taxpayers, urging the Democrat majority to show constraint as they proposed increased gas taxes, clothing taxes and alcohol/beer taxes. He helped stop the assault on the people’s Second Amendment rights. He fought for school districts by authoring legislation to bring equity to education funding. Nienow authored and the legislature passed the Arson Wildfire Bill increasing penalties for arson fires like the fire of 2009 near Carlos Avery that burned 2600 acres and required 31 fired departments’ assistance yet resulted in only probation for the one convicted.

Many residents of District 32 are aware of the successful work Senator Nienow did to bring about greater accountability and transparency to the way Medicaid is funded in Minnesota. Recent audits confirmed Senator Nienow’s concerns and oversight has improved because of his efforts. Those efforts helped bring about an investigation by the Federal Office of Inspector General which is ongoing.

"Thank you to all the constituents who wrote, called, emailed, and visited me during the session. Your views are very important, and I’m honored to serve as your state Senator," said Senator Nienow.

Published: 05/15/2013

 

Minnesota State Senator Sean Nienow on HF1054/SF925 Same Sex Marriage Bill

May 15, 2013

(ST. PAUL) – State Senator Sean Nienow statement on passage of the bill granting legal marriage of same sex couples.

Monday's historic vote legally sanctioning same sex marriage comes on the heels of the unsuccessful vote last fall to prevent Minnesota Courts from redefining marriage as anything other than the union of one man and one woman. Despite telling Minnesotans that nothing would change if they voted "No" on that question last fall, changing the definition of marriage became a priority for the new DFL majorities in both the House and Senate. When the new law takes effect this summer, they will have succeeded in redefining marriage. I did not vote for the proposal.

Marriage predates governmental definitions and regulation. Government did not create marriage. Marriage laws were crafted to acknowledge a socially beneficial structure, an institution (marriage) which existed and benefitted society through childbirth and a strong social structure for the rearing of those children- a stable environment with both a mother and father, which is well known to be the most beneficial environment for a child. Gay marriage advocates want to use the force of the state to change a pre-existing institution. If the state can change the definition of an institution it did not create then it can force people to do so as well. There is a distinct potential the new law could adversely affect traditional families and certainly will come into conflict with certain individuals expression under First Amendment rights to adhere to religious beliefs.

Minnesota will have to sort out in the courts paternity and parental laws as well as the legal use of words like mother, father, husband and wife which will now be prohibited by law in various instances. Those terms will now be required by this law to change into something "gender neutral". I see fundamental societal challenges ahead as Minnesota grapples with a new law that seems to imply that to be a child’s mother has nothing to do with being female, and to be a child’s father has nothing to do with being male. This is our new law.

As acknowledged in the bill language attempting to protect some religious institutions, this law has an inherent conflict with some religious liberties. I addressed some of those concerns during Senate debate, and I highlighted the fact (as acknowledged in a letter by renowned law professors) that there are some religious liberties protections for institutions and corporations in this new law but individual protection does not existent in the language. That is highly problematic, and I hope that particular flaw in the law will be addressed in the very near future.

Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes most of Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651) 296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at sen.sean.nienow@senate.mn.

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Senator Sean Nienow Introduces Bill to Delay Vikings Stadium Construction

Until a Proven Revenue Source is Identified

 

April 4, 2013

(ST. PAUL) –State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) will introduce a bill next week to delay the selling of bonds to fund the building of a new Vikings stadium until the funding revenue shortfall from E-pull tabs is reconciled.

The Dayton Administration’s projected revenue from E-pull tabs is off by 95%. The original projections by the Administration were that E-pull tabs would generate $35 million in revenue. Current projections are at $1.7 million.

This colossal error in calculation warrants immediate action before the state is forced to take money from education and health care to pay for the new stadium.

Senator Nienow and Representative Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) have authored legislation to delay the implementation of general bond sales until a proven revenue source is determined.

“Are we really going to build a sports stadium and take money from education, health care and maintaining roads? In whose world is that a good idea? When the Stadium bill was debated I said the E-pull tab revenue source was based on ‘fairies and fufu dust.’  It appears I have been proven correct,” Sen. Nienow said.

Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes the Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, 100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at sen.sean.nienow@senate.mn.

Published: 03/25/2013

Here is an article I sent to the local papers.

Sen. Nienow Guest Commentary – March 25, 2013

The Minnesota Legislature is buzzing with activity these days. While we await the official legislative budget bills to be introduced, there are other issues that are getting the attention of the media and the public.

You may have seen recent news stories in print, television and radio outlets talking about an issue I have been working on for over two years. Medicaid programs in Minnesota are in big trouble. It’s not that there is a lack of money going into these programs. The problem is the Department of Human Services (DHS) has poorly managed the programs. As a result, we have a significant percentage of $8 billion a year being lost through these enormously unaccountable government programs. What is truly heart breaking is the suffering this brings into the lives of our neighbors, who, already struggling in tough economic circumstances, are in pain and unable to get the medical care they need and these programs are supposed to provide.

Two years ago I began asking questions about the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in the management of Medicaid, a program that is funded by roughly 50% state and 50% federal funding. There have been three audits of Minnesota’s Medicaid programs that have consistently confirmed our worst fears; that the Department of Human Services dropped the ball on oversight and that the rates being paid to the HMOs who administer these programs have been very high. While providers of medical services; doctors, dentists, chiropractors etc. continue to receive low reimbursements for the care they provide Medicaid patients, the HMOs to whom these programs have been outsourced, according to the audits, are sitting on huge sums of money. A “for-profit” business would call these profits however, because the HMOs are “non-profits,” they are called “reserves.”

It is the persistent questions from myself and others, concerned about the lack of integrity in the Medicaid programs, that have resulted in these audits and a current investigation into Medicaid in Minnesota by the federal Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. I welcome and applaud this effort because, in order for Minnesota to know a fair rate of reimbursement for health care services, we must know what it actually costs to provide those services. The rising cost of health care and the massive overhaul that the passage of the Affordable Care Act imposes on us make it imperative that we get to the bottom of this now.

The real tragedy in not getting to the bottom of the Medicaid program mismanagement is the heart breaking stories of people suffering because they cannot find a doctor or dentist who will take Medicaid. I recently heard from Sherri, a working woman from our community who deals with a disability and could not get dental care unless she paid for the anesthesia out of her own pocket. This is just awful!  Taxpayers have already paid for these programs and expect the money will actually be used for the medical care these patients need.

Since the Dayton Administration seems unwilling to restore the integrity of Minnesota’s Medicaid programs through a comprehensive audit, it has become necessary for me to have conversations with Congressman Darrel Issa’s office. Congressman Issa, chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Government Oversight Committee is investigating the way Medicaid rates are paid in Minnesota and other states. Additionally, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has introduced the Medicaid Integrity Act of 2013, requiring annual audits of Medicaid programs nationwide. Recipients of these programs, like my constituent, Sherri, are counting on the money that is allocated for medical care, in fact, result in medical care not be wasted through mismanagement.

Published: 02/25/2013

February 22 Article:

As I write this column, the legislature is wrapping up hearings on Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal. We continue to review the Governor’s budget while awaiting the final budget forecast due out in late February. In the meantime, other policy measures are being introduced and discussed. Recently I introduced a bill in the Minnesota Senate that pertains to the use of drones, unmanned aircraft, in Minnesota. This proposed legislation prompted much media interest and as such is the topic of my commentary this week.

With the introduction of Senate File 485, Minnesota joins at least 18 other states in being proactive about establishing common sense guidelines in the use of a technology that is about to vastly expand in the United States. In fact, Congress passed a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015 and the Federal Aviation Administration predicts over 10,000 drones will be in use within the next five years. Clearly, given these projections, it is prudent that Minnesota establish individual privacy protection guidelines.

The FAA has solicited proposals for six sites to test this new “eye in the sky” technology. These test sites are aimed at potential problems such as in air collisions, damage to people or property, and the potential for drones to be “hijacked” causing the operator to lose control of the aircraft. The FAA has posted a draft plan for protecting people’s privacy online which would require each test site to follow federal and state laws and make a privacy policy publicly available, according to an article in the Washington Guardian. Given the new drone technology, it is time Minnesota begins this discussion and ensures that any guidelines established reflect the will of the people and the State of Minnesota. My bill aims to begin that discussion.

Drones are already here and they provide opportunities to benefit the public when used properly and with respect to our civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights. The FAA reports that it has issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007. While it is anticipated that local and state law enforcement will be the largest drone users, as supply and demand expand and prices go down the potential is certainly there for other people to use drones. Already, state transportation departments and universities are using drones.

This bill would prohibit the use of drones for gathering evidence or information on individuals except for high risk incidences or after obtaining a warrant. The bill provides civil remedies should an individual’s rights be violated in this manner.

We are increasingly becoming a “surveillance society” where Big Brother is using cameras to watch the activities of average citizens. States have an obligation to be proactive in ensuring protections are in place before problems arise. That is just common sense.

Published: 02/01/2013

Town Hall Meetings for February:

Education Town Hall

February 19:  7:00 - 8:00 PM.

North Branch High School Auditorium

Open to the public and all parents and educators, staff, are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Braham Town Hall

February 16: 10:00- 11:00 AM

Council Chambers

201 So. Broadway Ave.
Braham 55006
 

Cambridge Town Hall

February 23: 10:00 - 11:00 AM

Minnco Credit Union

Minnco Center:

236 2nd Ave SW

Cambridge

 

Rush City:

Early March: TBD

 

Chisago City:

March: TBD

 

Published: 01/28/2013

January 28th article submitted to local newspapers:

Governor Dayton’s Task Force on Education Finance Workgroup Recommendations

I serve on the Senate Education Committee and recently received the recommendations from Governor Dayton’s Education Finance Workgroup. There are components of these recommendations that the residents in District 32 should know about. Today I write to inform you how, if implemented, these recommendations might affect you and your communities.

Essentially Governor Dayton’s workgroup recommends the state take the money that some school districts receive through their education levy and put it in the General Education Fund. The state would then give that same amount of money to all school districts. So, what does this mean for school districts that do not have a levy, such as North Branch? The state would give the local school boards the authority to impose a levy to obtain the money that would be given to the state and redistributed back to the school district in the General Education Fund. This is problematic on a number of fronts. First, North Branch has, six times in the last ten years, said no to the school district’s proposed referendum to increase the levy. The voters have consistently and clearly said through their vote that they do not want their property taxes increased. The Governor’s work group recommendation goes around the voter, disenfranchising their vote, and gives the authority directly to the school board to impose this increase in your property tax even though they were never elected with that authority.

The school districts do not have authority to raise your taxes and what’s more, when you voted for your local school board member you were not given the opportunity to ask them how they would stand on raising your taxes. You, as a voter and resident of the community had no opportunity to base your vote on this information. These recommendations take the authority for imposing taxes out of the hands of the legislators who have to answer to the people for how they would handle that authority and puts it in the hands of school board officials who do not. Furthermore, on page 9-10 of the Workforce Recommendations it states that if the school board chose to levy less that the stated amount, the state could reduce education aid payments by a dollar for dollar amount. Would this pressure the school boards to impose the full levy out of fear that their education funding could be cut? It almost certainly would.

Just how much money are we talking about here? The financial impact summary released by the Workgroup shows that North Branch would receive a 13.1% increase in education property tax; Cambridge would see an 8.4% increase in education property tax; Chisago Lakes and Rush City would each see about 2.5% increase and Braham and Princeton would stay about the same. I cannot support the state reaching farther into your household budget and taking more of your money while at the same disenfranchising your vote.

 

Next I’d like to address equity in education funding. Equity in funding, or better described as the inequity in education finding is important and those who have followed my work on education at the legislature know that I have advocated closing the gap between the disproportionately high levels of funding going to Metro schools compared to what our local schools here in Isanti and Chisago County receive. In 2011, Minneapolis Schools received approximately $14,000 per pupil while North Branch received about $8700 and Chisago Lakes received about $8500. Cambridge Isanti Schools received $7600 and Braham Schools received $8500. Minneapolis Public Schools receive over $5000 more than our schools, per child yet between 2007 and 2011 less than half of Minneapolis public high school students graduated in four years. In addition to that, 73% of 11th grade students in Minneapolis Public Schools did not meet the Math Standards in 2012. Clearly this is not due to a lack of funding. I know Governor Dayton talks about a better Minnesota, but there is a better way for Minnesota. Our educational system, receiving 40% of our state’s budget, is structurally flawed and rather than using sleight of hand funding tricks that take away your right to vote, we should build a structurally sound system that results in highly educated students.

Funding education is a high priority in Minnesota. It should be done responsibly and not on the backs of homeowners and small businesses and certainly not by going around their right to vote on local education levies.

You can count on me to continue to bring reasonable, responsible and compassionate solutions to the running of the great state of Minnesota and to stand for your rights. I welcome your feedback and ideas. You can contact me by email or phone at 651-296-5419 or Sen.Sean.Nienow@senate.mn.

Published: 01/25/2013

OP-ED:  The 2013 Legislative Session

On January 8th I was sworn in as state senator serving District 32, Isanti and Chisago Counties. It is an honor and a privilege to represent the good people of our wonderful communities in Isanti and Chisago and I look forward to the next four years and the opportunity to bring your voice to the Minnesota Legislature.

Over the last two years the legislature made good progress in managing the states checkbook. When I took office the state was facing problems left by the previous legislature which had overextended state spending leaving Minnesota with a projected $6.2 billion deficit. When the two-year legislative cycle ended we had turned that deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus according to Governor Dayton’s budget department. It was good progress and I am optimistic that we can continue in the right direction. The state budget will be a priority for many of us.

The election last November resulted in a situation in which the Minnesota Senate, House of Representatives and Governorship are all under the control of the Democrat Party. This will make it difficult for the normal and healthy debate of ideas and the balance of power that tempers the extremes from swinging the pendulum too far in either direction. None the less, I am optimistic that there will be bi-partisan efforts to do what is right for the people of Minnesota. You have my commitment to bring the your concerns and ideas to that debate and work for results that keep us moving forward to financial stability as a state and opportunities for Minnesotan’s to live high quality lives.

The committees I will serve on include Finance; Health, Human Services and Housing, and Education. I am also the Minority Lead on the Education Finance committee. These committees oversee very important aspects of life for Minnesota and it pleases me to serve on them.

Education is an important matter to the people in my town and yours. It has been a challenge to bring equity to the funding of education locally. You can count on me to work to resolve this problem so the children in Isanti and Chisago can have every opportunity for a high quality education that schools in the Twin Cities receive. No child should be marginalized simply because of where they live. Health Care is another important matter I will write about in a future piece.

If you plan a trip to the State Capitol, be sure to call ahead and plan to stop in. Making time to meet with residents of District 32 is a top priority for me because your opinions count and I want to hear your ideas and concerns.

Published: 01/24/2013

January 18, 2013

 

 (ST. PAUL) – State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) has been appointed by Minnesota Leadership to serve on the Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board. The board was created in 2008 by then Governor Tim Pawlenty. It includes members of the legislature, the Commissioner of Health or his designee and parents of children under the age of six.

 

The responsibilities of the board include conducting a periodic statewide assessment concerning the quality and availability of early childhood education and development programs and services. The board will also work to facilitate improved collaboration and coordination between the state and federal programs and amongst state agencies with the aim to improve early childhood education in Minnesota. The Advisory Board makes recommendations regarding statewide professional development and career advancement plans for early childhood educators.
 

“I am happy to serve on the Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board and continue to make a difference, improving education for Minnesota’s children and education options for parents. Serving as the GOP Minority Lead on the Education Finance Committee affords me additional opportunities to speak out for the families of Chisago and Isanti Counties to ensure their children, and all Minnesota children have the high quality education they deserve,” said Senator Nienow. Senator Nienow will serve on the Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board with Senator Patricia Torres Ray.

 

 Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes most of Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at sen.sean.nienow@senate.mn.

 

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Published: 12/11/2012

December 11, 2012

BACHMANN, NIENOW APPLAUD AUDIT OF MINNESOTA’S MEDICAID PROGRAMS

(ST. PAUL) -- Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Minnesota State Senator Sean Nienow today commended the U.S. Office of Inspector General for stepping up the investigation into Medicaid rate setting in Minnesota. Both Bachmann and Nienow introduced legislation in 2012 requiring audits of Medicaid programs.

In a letter dated November 20, 2012, The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notified the Minnesota Department of Human Services that the OIG will audit the rates that were charged by health plans, “nonprofits,” to administer and pay Minnesota Medicaid claims on behalf of the poor and disabled.

Protecting Medicaid from fraud should not only be a Minnesota-specific goal, but a national one. Both the U.S. Congress and the Minnesota Legislature held hearings in 2012 on the need for greater transparency and accountability as calls for Medicaid auditing were made by federal and state lawmakers like Bachmann and Nienow.

“Taxpayers have been paying huge sums of money to health plans without ever getting an itemized list of what the money was for,” said Bachmann. “It is time that we find out, once and for all, why the health plans have been amassing huge reserves, and at the same time, increasing the rates they charge for paying Medicaid claims. When Medicaid money is lost through waste, fraud and abuse, the very people who need it don’t get the care they should. It is unconscionable to do nothing and leave our poor suffering in the wake of inadequate access to care.”

"Future rates are determined based on previous years’ costs, and the Affordable Care Act includes a vast expansion of Medicaid. We simply lack verifiable claims data to support what the health plans have been charging. This problem exists at every level, all the way to the top including the MN Department of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human

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Services,” said Sen. Nienow. “A proper audit at the granular level is what is needed. People are finding it difficult to get services and providers suffer low reimbursements for the care they give. Proper audits will go a long way to restore integrity to these programs which, hopefully, results in better care for Minnesota’s poor families.”

Earlier this year, Bachmann introduced The Medicaid Integrity Act of 2012 calling for independent, third-party financial and performance audits every other year of the health plans who administer Medicaid. Senator Nienow authored legislation in 2012 to implement audits of payment data and administrative expenses after discovering that no such audits have ever been performed in over a decade.

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Published: 06/29/2012

June 29, 2012

 

Nienow: Health Care Programs Need Closer Look Before ObamaCare Expansion

 

On June 28th, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, was mostly upheld by the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote. Unless and until repealed, ObamaCare is the law of the land.

 

A significant part of this federal law includes a very large expansion of Medicaid – subsidized health insurance for the poor – a program riddled with fraud. Over the last several years, allegations have been made that Minnesota inflated Medicaid spending figures in order to receive additional, unwarranted taxpayer dollars from the federal government. Congressional subcommittees of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings regarding the lack of transparency, accountability and oversight of Medicaid funding in Minnesota and around the country. The final report from the hearings specifically cites Minnesota as an example of “how states are failing to properly ensure the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars spent”. Also, a recent Federal Government Accountability Office Report to Congress said that without corrective action in the program we “continue to put billions of taxpayer dollars at risk of improper payments or waste.” With a massive expansion of Medicaid set to occur under ObamaCare, the time to take action to improve accountability and increase transparency is now, not later.

 

The enormous expansion of Medicaid underscores the grave urgency for audits of the Minnesota Medicaid program administered under managed care (HMOs). The same HMO’s run both the Medicare and Medicaid programs, but historically Minnesota Medicare costs have been among the lowest in the nation while Medicaid costs are among the highest even though Medicare is only for the elderly who typically use more health care and are more expensive to cover. On its face, something does not look right there. We simply cannot expand Medicaid under ObamaCare without first auditing our system to get an accurate picture of what the true cost should be. An expansion based on fraudulent or artificially inflated numbers would be an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars. We must get an accurate assessment of the current program before adding hundreds of thousands of people onto Medicaid.

 

In Minnesota, Medicaid is run by just four HMOs. Current state law prohibits market competition from other HMO’s who would like to make a profit here, even though competition almost always lowers prices for the consumer. Expansion of Medicaid, if we are to avoid a cartel-like situation, must include opening Medicaid programs in our state to other competitors. Before Minnesota can move to a block grant system or any other appropriation from the federal government, we must have audits done immediately and make our Medicaid payment rates default to the Medicare rate in Minnesota where we have accuracy and accountability.

 

I am glad to say I was able to enact a state law requiring audits of these programs. Due to budget constraints, funding for that state audit might not be available until 2015. I recently sent a letter to the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) requesting they conduct an immediate audit of Minnesota’s public health care programs and their funding. CMS can do this using the Medicaid Integrity Program included in the Social Security Act and expanded in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. CMS has the resources to commence an audit this year. With the conclusions reported after the two Oversight Committee hearings, the need to take action is critical.

 

Since half of the Minnesota Medicaid program is paid for with federal tax dollars, the federal government has a clear financial interest in finding any waste or fraud as soon as possible. If CMS performs the audit now rather than waiting until Minnesota’s audit, the federal government will get an immediate account of the Medicaid spending in Minnesota. As an added benefit, Minnesota’s future audits will be less expensive. It is a classic win-win. The federal government gets the accountability needed to prevent fraud and abuse, the state saves time and money and taxpayers get the transparency in government they deserve. The best result – those “billions of taxpayer dollars at risk” will be safe from fraud and government health care programs would become accountable to the people of Minnesota.

Published: 06/26/2012

 

NIENOW: FINANCIAL STABILITY THROUGH REFORM AND RESTRAINT

 

After Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) projected a $6.2 billion budget deficit in November 2010, it became very apparent that government needed to rein in spending growth to get our state’s finances back in the black. When we entered the last biennium in January 2011, we set a goal to put the state on a more sustainable fiscal path by cutting waste in government and eliminating unessential spending.

 

I’m glad to say we mostly achieved that goal. Over the last two years, the Legislature has taken steps to reduce spending growth and reform government. In February, the Dayton Administration’s MMB official state budget forecast unveiled an almost $1.2 billion current budget surplus.

 

I am also proud to say that I was directly involved in a number of reforms that have helped put our state on the path toward financial stability.

 

As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I supported efforts to reduce unsustainable spending increases in our state’s health care programs by $1.8 billion by modifying policies that were no longer working for our state.

 

I also worked diligently to shed light on the potential misuse of Medicaid health care dollars. The federal government has launched four investigations into how Minnesota pays HMOs for Medical Assistance which comes, in part, as a result of my work and legislation. I will continue efforts to create accountability and transparency in Minnesota’s health care programs.

 

This year I served as Chairman of the new Reform and Redesign Subcommittee which sought to find efficiencies in government. On that committee, we consolidated the state’s IT functions, encouraged agencies to work with private firms to find efficiencies, looked for cost-savings in government so our state operates more effectively and efficiently.

 

Our reforms are working and Minnesota's economy is improving. Before these recent budget actions next year’s deficit was projected to be $4.4 billion, but our reforms trimmed that by 75% to about $1 billion. In addition,  every month MMB has been reporting higher budget surpluses – an extra $34 million last month alone!

 Minnesota employment has recovered more rapidly than the rest of the country. In February, Minnesota's 5.7 percent unemployment rate was 2.6 percent below the nation average. Overall, Minnesota's economy appears to be on the mend. We have more work to do to reinvigorate the economic climate, but it’s encouraging that Minnesota is moving in the right direction. We will continue to work to pass our legislative agenda, which puts Minnesota’s economy on a forward path.

 

Within 18 months we were able to turn a $6.2 billion deficit into a $1.2 billion budget surplus and reduce future projected deficits by 75%. We did this by focusing on fiscal restraint, government efficiency and job promotion. If Minnesota continues fiscal restraint and focuses on policies that support job-growth and government reform, we will see stable budgets without raising taxes. Because we exercised a steady hand when dealing with Minnesota’s budget, we were able to improve Minnesota’s financial outlook. I will continue to support Minnesota’s economy by focusing on policies that promote responsible spending and encourage government reform.

Published: 06/07/2012

This is a letter I sent to the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services calling for an immediate audit of the states Public Health Care Programs (Prepaid Medical Assistance Programs). There are currently four federal investigations into how Minnesota pays four HMOs for administering Medical Assistance which come, in part, as a result of legislation I introduced in 2011 and 2012. I will continue to work to bring accountability and transparency to the serious and expensive public health care programs in Minnesota. To be good stewards of the tax payer dollar, we must have complete and accurate data on how this money is being spent.

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Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator

Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20201

 

June 7, 2012

 

 

Dear Administrator Tavenner,

I am calling for an immediate, independent Medicaid Integrity Contractor audit (MIC) of Minnesota’s managed care Medicaid Program.

On Thursday, June 7th, Ann Maxwell, Regional Inspector General from the Office of Inspector General, testified before the Subcommittee on Government Organization Efficiency and Financial Management of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In her testimony she reported challenges that limited the potential to successfully identify Medicaid fraud, stating, “Most fundamentally, there are significant shortcomings in the data available to conduct efficient, national Medicaid program integrity oversight through data analysis and data mining.” This is consistent with what I have discovered at the state level in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s management of the Medicaid program by the state’s Department of Human Services is problematic for several reasons:

  1. The Minnesota Council of Health Plans has stated that the Department of Human Services does not have the ability to review the data nor assess the administrative expenditures by the Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) who administer the program.
  2. The Medicaid rates in Minnesota are two and a half times higher than the national average and growing faster than the national average.
  3. Providers have reported flat reimbursement rates for a decade or more.
  4. The HMOs have reported large amounts of money deposited into their reserve accounts over the last several years.
  5. The Department of Human Services former Director of Managed Care Contracts is alleged to have stated that they are engaged in the manipulation of risk reserve calculations to obtain unwarranted federal funding.
  6. One HMO, UCare of Minnesota, returned $30 million dollars to the state of Minnesota in 2011, and cited one of the reasons for the return of money was, “Historically DHS rates set for General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) resulted in health plan losses which were offset by higher Medical Assistance payments. When GAMC moved out of managed care in mid- year 2010, Medical Assistance rates were not lowered to reflect this overpayment.”

Minnesota has been the target of several investigations into its Medicaid program. These investigations underscore efforts I have made in the Minnesota State Legislature to bring greater accountability and transparency to the way the Medicaid program is administered. Legislation passed in 2012 at the state level provides for an independent third party audit of the program which does not begin until 2015 and is authorized to only look back to 2014. However, the facts that have compelled the federal investigations indicate that potentially hundreds of millions dollars may have been overspent in Medicaid services in Minnesota dating back to 2003.

These facts warrant an immediate audit of the Medicaid program in Minnesota because, if it is true that funds have been obtained from the Federal Government in excess of what is appropriate, potentially hundreds of millions have been paid to the HMOs but not necessarily to providers or in services to patients. Historically, Medicaid audits are performed to detect overpayments to providers. It is imperative that an audit be performed on the HMOs in Minnesota, where no such audit has ever been performed because the state Department of Human Services doesn’t have any encounter data to audit. The Minnesota Department of Health issued a report on February 15th, 2012 which states, “The lack of consistency in reporting administrative expenses and investment income made it extremely difficult to compare the health plans to each other. It also made it difficult to determine if the reported administrative expenses were reasonable. To the extent health plans participate in the commercial market as well as state public programs, it was not possible to determine if administrative expenses and investment income was being properly and fairly allocated among all of a HMOs lines of business.”

The lack of encounter data justifies the need for an immediate audit. The health plans say the state has the encounter data but cannot read or use it. However, the state and Deputy Commissioner Scott Leitz recently said that encounter data is analyzed and used every day.  This contradiction needs to be reconciled because the state has for years been sending CMS reports saying the rates are based on sound actuarial assumptions. The Actuary for the state (who has also been a consulting actuary for the health plans in Minnesota at the same time) states they do not verify the data that is given to them, and the health plans are saying the state can’t read the data. If this is true then the veracity and reliability of the data rests squarely on the health plans. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann testified to this fact in her statement at the aforementioned hearing when she stated “There is a complete lack of verifiable data.” I can attest to this in my own conversations with the HMOs and the Department of Human Services. CMS has the Medicaid Integrity Contractors and the funding in place to commence an immediate examination of this egregious lack of accountability.

               

 

The Medicaid Integrity Program provides CMS with the ability to perform an immediate audit in Minnesota. I urge you to take such action before the end of the current year, 2012.

 

Sincerely,

Sean Nienow

State Senator

District 17

Published: 06/01/2012

Why I Voted no on the Vikings Stadium Proposal

 

The Legislature passed and the Governor signed the Vikings Stadium bill which spends nearly $1 billion dollars of which the state has committed $400 million. The price tag and the process attached to this bill compelled me as your elected Senator and steward of the taxpayer dollar to vote against the bill.

The Vikings Stadium proposal had several alarming elements that, despite the efforts of myself and other legislators, was not remedied. A primary source of funding for the stadium is to be derived from electronic pull tabs. In order for this to work, pull tab revenue will need to double and then increase by another 30%. Even then, pull tab revenue will need to continue at that pace for 30 years. When one considers the fact that over the last ten years pull tab revenue has declined by 30% one can see that we are bucking a negative trend with the hope that we will reverse the trend, increase it by 130% and then keep it up for thirty years. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the regressive tax and social costs of gambling addiction.

Proponents of the bill claimed that the Vikings owner compromised by agreeing to increase his funding by $50 million to $477 million, however in the end deal the Vikings owner obtained the naming rights which are estimated at $200 million, plus another $100-200 million in personal seat licenses. Top that off with a $200 million grant from the NFL and you have a sweet deal for the Vikings with the Minnesota taxpayer picking up the tab.

Some may choose to criticize me for voting to pass the Conference Committee Report on this legislation and I make no excuses for this vote which was a procedural move to slow down a bill that was being forced on legislators without proper deliberation (one must have voted yes on passage of the report in order to move that motion for reconsideration).

Media hype, pressure from lobbyists, and even something as popular as the Minnesota Vikings, will never be a reason for compromising on principle and fiscal responsibility. This was a raw deal for the taxpayer and I could not in conscience vote for it regardless of my fondness for football.

Published: 03/23/2012

March 23, 2012

 

CONGRESSMAN ISSA TO HOLD HEARINGS ON HEALTHCARE SPENDING

 

(ST. PAUL) - Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has announced that congressional subcommittees will hold hearings regarding the lack of transparency, accountability and oversight over Medicaid funding in Minnesota.

 

Allegations have been made that the state inflated healthcare spending figures in order to receive additional, unwarranted matching funds from the federal government. State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge), a leader on the issue of HMO transparency, sent a letter to Issa alerting him to the potentially improper use of healthcare funding

 

Nienow stated, “I am pleased that Congressman Issa plans to hold hearings on HMO transparency and the alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars earmarked for Minnesota’s healthcare programs. Steps must be taken both at the state level and at the federal level to ensure Minnesota’s healthcare programs have proper oversight. I have requested hearings in the State Senate to help shed light on what may have been an improper use of tax dollars and to encourage independent, party audits of Minnesota’s HMOs who administer our healthcare programs.”

 

State Senator Mike Parry (R-Waseca), chair of the Committee on State Government Innovations and Veterans, also plans to hold an oversight hearing to explore Department of Human Services’ failure to comply with the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s request for information on the alleged misuse of healthcare dollars.

 

State Senator John Marty (D-Roseville), an advocate for increased HMO transparency, was also encouraged by the upcoming hearings. “MARTY STATEMENT,” Marty said.

 

According to Issa, a hearing entitled “Is Government Adequately Protecting Taxpayers from Medical Fraud?” will be held on April 25th at 9:30 AM in a joint meeting of the Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and National Archives and the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending.

 

For more information, Issa’s statement and other supporting documents can be read it at ______________.

 

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Published: 03/21/2012
NIENOW BILL CREATES PERMANENT SOLUTION TO PAY BACK CURRENT AND FUTURE SCHOOL SHIFTS

(ST. PAUL) -- Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) introduced a bill today that creates a permanent statutory mechanism to pay back the current, and any future, school shift at an accelerated rate by withholding one percent of general fund appropriations until the shift is paid back.

 

Senate File 2452 directs the commissioner of management and budget to withhold one percent of general fund appropriations, with the exception of constitutionally-allocated and debt service payments, to provide an annual increase in the aid payment percentage for school districts. Under the bill, all state budgets will continue to receive less funding until the school aid shift is paid.

 

“Paying back any school shift must be a top priority. This legislation will create a permanent statutory mechanism to GUARANTEE it happens. Key reforms and job-creating measures contributed to a budget surplus that allowed us to already pay back nearly half of last year’s new shift and pending legislation could fully repay it. However, existing shifts from previous budgets will still exist. Current law does not guarantee payback at all, but this legislation will change that,” Nienow stated.

 

Aid payment shifts have been used since 1983 to assist in balancing the state budget during difficult financial periods. In 2011, the final budget agreement increased the shift from a 70-30 shift to a 60-40 shift. However, job-growth policies and budget restraint resulted in a budget surplus and a reduction of the shift.

 

Nienow added, “This bill not only will pay back the current outstanding shift to our schools, but it also guarantees any future shift will be paid back in a responsible manner as well. This is a permanent, structural solution that will give our schools additional financial certainty. Putting this bill into law in combination with other responsible legislative measures could result in the shift being paid back in as few as eight years.”

 

The bill was given its first reading on the Senate floor and referred to the Senate Education Committee.

 

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Published: 03/20/2012
 
NIENOW CALLS FOR CONGRESSMAN ISSA TO INVESTIGATE MINN. MEDICAID FUNDING
 
(ST. PAUL) - State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) recently sent a letter to Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, suggesting that he may be interested in the lack of transparency, accountability, and oversight over Medicaid funding in Minnesota.
 
Please see the attached letter for additional information.
 
The letter and supporting documents can be viewed at www.TinyURL.com/IssaLetter
 
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