2009 Legislative Roundup

The 2009 session of the Minnesota Legislature had many issues being followed by the disability community. Bills passed by the […]

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The 2009 session of the Minnesota Legislature had many issues being followed by the disability community. Bills passed by the House and Senate met differing fates in the hands of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with some winning approval and others facing the veto pen. Here’s an overview of key legislation:

Help for those with guardians
More than 22,000 Minnesotans live under the authority of court-appointed guardians and conservators. These people will have more protection from transgressions byguardians and conservators, thanks to legislation passed this session. Much of the legislation stemmed from recent cases throughout the state in which conservators and guardians stole from those whom

they were trusted to protect. Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the legislation in late May and it will become law July 1.

The law essentially creates a “bill of rights” for protected persons, including the elderly, disabled persons and the mentally ill. Much of the testimony on the bill came from advocates and from family members of persons who had been victimized.

One key provision of the law will require guardians and conservators to register with the state courts, starting in 2013.

Changes to regulations of investigations and crimes for maltreatment or financial exploitation of vulnerable adults passed both the House and Senate, and were expected to be signed into law. The legislation makes it easier for persons with court-appointed guardians to challenge the professionals who make decisions for them

This legislation also makes a number of technical changes to regulations affecting vulnerable adults. These include changes to how financial records are disclosed when there is an investigation of a case of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. It also would allow a financial institution to notify a government authority of a possible case of financial exploitation. The legislation also expands the powers of law enforcement and prosecutors in such cases. Yet another key change would expands criminal definitions to include: the unlawful use, deprivation, or control of a vulnerable adult’s real or personal property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult, or the establishment of a fiduciary relationship of a vulnerable adult through harassment, undue influence, or other coercive means. This includes property of the vulnerable adult held in the name of a third party. Consent is not a defense to this crime if the guardian or conservator knew or had reason to know the vulnerable adult lacked capacity to consent. Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, had tried to impose a requirement for certification of people wanting to be guardians and conservators. That is required in a number of other states, but Moua had to remove that provision as a compromise.

Anti-bullying bill is vetoed
The Safe Schools for All Act, which is meant to strengthen anti-bullying programs in Minnesota schools, passed the House and Senate but was vetoed in late May by Gov. Tim

Pawlenty. The bill would have schools create policies that prohibit “harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence based on characteristics such as actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, physical characteristics, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.”

The bill had the support of groups including The Arc of Minnesota, Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Independent Lifestyles Inc. of St. Cloud and other disability advocates. Several advocates testified on behalf of the bill during the legislative session. But it was opposed by some Republicans, members of the religious right and the Minnesota Family Council because of its protections for students based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Family Council contended that the bill would provide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates the ability to institute curriculum changes in education that the family council would possible oppose. Although there have not been extensive studies of bulling in Minnesota schools and how students with disabilities are affected, studies in other states and countries do indicate students with disabilities suffer from increased incidents of bullying. In one British study 60 percent of disabled students reported incidents of bullying as compared to 25 percent of the general student population.

The bill would also do more to prevent harassment of students on the Internet. In his veto letter, Pawlenty indicated that he believes that the bill’s requirements would have been duplicative of existing state law and programs already in place in schools.

Election reforms bill gutted, vetoed
The 2009 legislative session began with high hopes for election reform in Minnesota, with numerous measures proposed for change. One of the issues of focus was that of making early voting easier. But when the elections bill was passed by the House and Senate in the waning days of the session, most of the proposed reforms were stripped out. That final version of the bill removed

measures that would have made early voting easier. Gov. Tim Pawlenty then vetoed the bill.

Currently Minnesotans who want to vote prior to electron day have to file absentee ballots. Absentee ballots can be used by persons who will not be in their precinct or who cannot get to the polls on Election Day. In 2008 10 percent of thestate’s voters used absentee ballots. Absentee ballot is used extensively by persons with disabilities. But one criticism of absentee voting is that it is complicated and difficult to understand. Challenged absentee ballots and how they were handled are at the center of the ongoing debate between Norm Coleman and Al Franken over the 2008 U.S. Senate race, which is still unresolved.

One proposal state lawmakers debated would have allowed early voting to start 15 days before each election. But that proposal and a number of other measures, including a photo identification requirement, were taken out of the bill. One of the few changes that did pass moved the state’s primary election from September to August. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty indicated he would most likely veto the bill because it didn’t have adequate Republican support.

Medical marijuana could end up on ballot
Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana, who saw their proposal passed by the House and Senate but vetoed by the governor, have vowed to take their fight directly to the voters.

After the 2009 bill was vetoed in late May, supporters said they would seek to put the measure on the ballot, to bring about a state constitutional amendment.

The bill passed by the House and Senate this spring wouldhave allowed terminally ill patients to ease their pain and other symptoms by use of marijuana. The use would have been extensively regulated. During testimony this session, people who use medical marijuana and family members of those who have used it, said the drug made a difference in the lives of those who deal with constant pain and illness. Some of the floor testimony in the final days of the session centered on the experience of state lawmakers who have had very ill relatives who may have benefited from legalization of medical marijuana.

But opponents of the bill, including many in the law enforcement community, claimed the marijuana is a gateway drug that can all too easily lead to other drug use, addiction and crime.

The bill did pass the House 70-64 and the Senate 38-28. But those margins of victory weren’t great enough to mount an override of the veto.

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