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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Different Definitions of Core State Functions

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This week two petitions were filed in Ramsey County Court regarding continued funding for core functions of the state should a government shutdown occur.

The first petition was filed on Monday, June 13, by the Minnesota Attorney General's office. This petition stated that in order to protect the constitutional rights of Minnesotans on a state and federal level, certain core functions of the government needed to be funded throughout a government shutdown. The Attorney General also pointed out that federal law requires states to administer certain federally-mandated programs even through a budget impasse (see Politics in Minnesota). The core functions highlighted in this petition were based off of government functions which were funded during the 2001 and 2005 government shutdowns; they include prisons, probation, state health department disease monitoring, sex offender treatment, health care, education, and veterans homes, among others (see the full text here; it looks long but the petition is only the first few pages). Finally, the petition requests the utilization of a "special master," specifically former state Supreme Court Justice James Gilbert, to determine which functions should be funded.

Then, on Wednesday, June 15, Governor Dayton filed his own petition, which asked that the court appoint a mediator (specifically former Justice Gilbert or former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz) to assist in budget talks before ordering the implementation of other orders of relief (e.g., the Attorney General's petition). The governor's petition stated that the Attorney General's petition asked for relief orders above and beyond what is constitutionally allowed; for example, she requested that each government entity determine which services were essential, order them to continue functioning, and submit bills to the state. Governor Dayton stated that this request conflicted with several articles in the Constitution which are meant to provide checks and balances on state spending, and that it is in the executive and legislative branches' power to appropriate funds, not the judicial branch's.

Should a mediation fail to produce results and a government shutdown occurs, the governor has prioritized government functions in such a way that only the first two out of four priority levels should continue to be funded. These services include providing care to residents in state-funded institutions, such as prisons, nursing homes, and treatment centers; public safety and public health; benefit payments (including adoption assistance) and medical services; essential elements of the financial system of the government; and necessary administrative support for overseeing the previous four functions. Some agencies recommended for closure include Ombudsperson for Families, Social Work Board, Behavioral Health & Therapy Board, all cultural-specific boards (such as Black Minnesotans Council), Disability Council, Human Rights Department, and Indian Affairs Council. For the full text of the petition, click here.

In the meantime, recipients of government-subsidized health care, child care assistance, and cash assistance (including food support and adoption assistance) will begin receiving notices this week that they may have difficulty accessing health care and that their programs may actually end should a government shutdown occur on July 1. Should Governor Dayton's petition be accepted, those receiving assistance as of June 30 would continue receiving assistance, but no new applications will be accepted or processed. On the other hand, Affirmative Options has stated that their interpretation of the petition indicates that employment services and child care payments will be halted for those receiving public assistance on and after July 1.

What do you think of these petitions, and the situation overall? Do you feel that a government shutdown is probable? What services would you fund, if you were able to decide?

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