Gov. Tim Walz Signs ALS Bill Authored By Senator Fighting Disease

30 March 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz was expected Wednesday to sign a $25 million bill to fund research into ALS that was authored by a veteran state senator from the Iron Range who is fighting the neurological disease.

Sen. David Tomassoni, 69, of Chisholm, took up the cause after disclosing last year that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His case has progressed rapidly, forcing him to participate in most Senate business remotely this session.

Here’s a look at the bill, the disease and Tomassoni’s fight against it.

THE DISEASE:

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, though it’s better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the New York Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941. It’s a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

There is no cure, there are few treatment options, and most patients die within three to five years of being diagnosed with it. It ultimately robs people of their ability to walk, talk, and eventually breathe. At any given time, roughly 450 Minnesotans are living with the disease.

Another prominent victim was celebrated British physicist Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018 after living with ALS for a highly unusual 55 years.

THE SENATOR:

Tomassoni was a Democrat for most of his political career. He was elected to the House in 1992 and the Senate in 2000. The Chisholm native also spent 16 years playing professional hockey in Italy and was on Italy’s national team for the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.

But he became an independent along with fellow Iron Range Sen. Tom Bakk, of Cook, in 2020, splitting with the liberal Democratic caucus to focus on the economic interests of northern Minnesota, where voters have been drifting away from the Democratic Party. The Senate GOP majority temporarily made him Senate president in 2020, then president pro tempore for 2021.

Tomassoni was diagnosed last June and went public last July, saying he had felt the early effects of ALS through the 2021 legislative session. He said recently that he could still drive, dress and feed himself in September, but that he can no longer do those things. Now reliant on a wheelchair to get around, he’s not running for reelection.

THE LEGISLATION:

The legislation gives $20 million to the Office of Higher Education to award competitive grants for research into the disease’s prevention, treatment, causes and cure. Eligible applicants are research facilities, universities and health systems located in Minnesota. Potential recipients include researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.

It also includes $5 million to help families care for ALS patients, including respite help for caregivers. The money will be available through June 30, 2026.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously and it passed by a vote of 121-9 in the House, where its backers included GOP Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu Brindley, of North Branch, who lost her husband, Jon, to ALS in 2016.

The $25 million isn’t a lot compared with the state’s $9.25 billion budget surplus. But the bill stands out as one of the early bipartisan successes of the 2022 session, in which the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-led Senate have found little common ground on what to do with the surplus. Walz is expected to soon sign the other major bipartisan success, divesting state government from its investments in Russia to protest its war in Ukraine.

(© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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