Legislative Notebook: Bills Would Keep Sanford Out Of U Hospitals

By Don Davis

Two Minnesota lawmakers are offering legislation to prevent Sanford Health from controlling University of Minnesota hospitals.

Sanford, headquartered in South Dakota and North Dakota, is looking at taking over Fairview Health Services, which operates the university hospital system.

“If we need to pass legislation to protect our University of Minnesota hospitals, then that is absolutely what we should do,” Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, said Monday. “The U of M hospitals are too important to our state’s education system, our economy and our health care market to not be controlled by a Minnesota entity.”

The legislation comes on the heels of a Sunday hearing called by Attorney General Lori Swanson about the potential takeover.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, wrote Fairview Chairman Chuck Mooty a letter on the situation.

“It should not surprise you that I, along with most of my colleagues in the Minnesota House, have heard from many people with deep concerns that an institution of such great importance to Minnesota might be controlled by a board in Sioux Falls, S.D.,” Atkins wrote.

The Atkins-Schoen legislation would place a one-year moratorium on an out-of-state organization buying Fairview. Atkins plans an April 17 hearing on the bill and he asked that Mooty be there.

Atkins told Mooty that among his concerns is that even as the company has acquired health systems throughout several states, “its center of gravity has very much remained in Sioux Falls.” Only three of Sanford’s board members are Minnesotans, the lawmaker said, while six of the 15 live in Sioux Falls.

In response to Sanford’s proposal to take over Fairview, the University of Minnesota has proposed a similar action of its own.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he does not know of anything the state needs to do about the situation now. “This process will go on for months,” he said.

However, because of the “huge public impact” hospital decisions could make on the university and Minnesotans, he is watching the situation. He said he was happy to hear that Mooty said he would not proceed with a Sanford merger if the university objected.

Dayton said he thinks the university can run its own hospital system, but wants to make sure before he takes a firm position on the merger issue.

“It’s a big, big financial commitment to the U and the state,” he said of the university taking over its hospital system.

Stadium money talk

Gov. Mark Dayton is inviting key lawmakers to discuss how to plug Vikings stadium funding shortfalls.

Electronic pulltab profits are bringing in far less than projected last year to pay the state’s portion of a nearly $1 billion downtown Minneapolis stadium. Dayton said he is not worried, but action is needed before lawmakers adjourn for the year by May 20.

“I think this has been blown so far out of proportion,” he said Monday.

Bonds the state planned to sell in August, for the first stadium construction costs, cannot be let then, he said. “Given all of the turmoil … we can’t issue the bonds.”

The public and legislators demand that “we put this thing to rest,” Dayton added.

A Minnesota Lottery official’s comment that his agency could introduce a slot machine-like game would be “part of the discussion,” the governor said.

In the meantime, Republicans who opposed the e-pulltab stadium funding solution are offering their ideas.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said that he is looking at a couple of things discussed last year, including taxing seats and items sold at the stadium. Another possibility he said he is examining would tax businesses in the area of the stadium that benefit from the new facility.

The state would need to repay $20 million to $40 million in stadium loans annually over the next several years. Dayton said that is not significant given the state’s $38 billion, two-year budget.

Transportation bill delayed

Democratic legislative transportation leaders delayed announcement of their transportation funding plan soon after Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that he does not support increasing the gasoline tax.

Leaders planned to roll out their plan, including a tax increase, at 1 p.m. Monday. Now, they plan to announce a proposal on Wednesday, after seeing what Dayton could support.

“I don’t support a gas tax,” Dayton said. “I don’t think the people of Minnesota support it.”

Still, Dayton said, more money is needed for highways and other transportation projects. He said the past three governors, two Republicans and an Independence Party member, have not provided needed funds.

Wire fraud opposed

The Minnesota House on Monday approved legislation aimed at protecting older Minnesotans from scams.

Thousands of Minnesotans have lost millions of dollars after being scammed into transferring funds. The scam artists often target the elderly, convincing them the money is going to help a relative in need.

“These scams, (which) include posing as a victim’s relative or falsely promising large lottery winnings and cash prizes, predominantly target the elderly.” AARP State Director Michele Kimball said. “They require the victims to send funds through wire transfers, but instead of going to help a grandson who is supposedly in trouble, the money goes to crooks in places like Jamaica.”

Living on minimum

Rep. Jason Metsa plans to live on minimum wage for a week, an effort to highlight legislation aimed at raising the wage.

“I can’t possibly know the reality of the day-to-day struggles faced by people living on minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour,” the Virginia, Minn., Democrat said. “But as (the bill) is considered by my fellow lawmakers, this is an attempt to better understand an economic situation many of us have never been exposed to.”

The legislation would raise the minimum wage to $9.95.