Editorial: An emotional bill signing in St. Paul

When there’s a bill signed in St. Paul there usually aren’t many tears shed. This past week there was good reason to need a Kleenex.
Ely’s second senator was on hand as Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation that will provide $20 million in grants for ALS research and $5 million ALS caregiving.
The disease is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the Hall of Fame baseball player who died of ALS. The effort was led by Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) who was diagnosed with ALS last year.
Using a computer aided speaking device, Tomassoni used his eyes to pick out the words he wanted to say. ALS has robbed Tomassoni of his ability to walk or talk after being diagnosed in June of last year.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and there is no known cure. 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 with the average lifespan of someone diagnosed being two to five years.
“This bill means hope,” Tomassoni said. “Imagine a researcher like [University of Minnesota neurologist] Dr. David Walk finally having the research dollars necessary to make a unprecedented effort toward finding the cure.”
Sen. Tom Bakk struggled with his emotions as he thanked those involved in getting the bill passed.
“My hope, and I know David’s hope for the bill is that someday, somebody’s friend or family member is going to be able to come home after a diagnosis and say, ‘There is something they might be able to do.’”
Walz took a moment to thank Tomassoni’s legislative assistant, Laura Bakk, the wife of Tom Bakk. The two senators share an office suite on the third floor of the Capitol.
Both Tomassoni and Bakk won’t be on the ballot this fall and their leadership will be greatly missed in northeast Minnesota. They have been more than friends, more than Senators of the Iron Range delegation. They have picked each other up and helped whenever needed. Knowing that is coming to an end was sad in itself.
Among those with tears on Wednesday was Tomassoni. But he needed the help of his two sons to wipe them away. Let’s hope this ALS funding changes lives and gives hope.