A hurried 2024 legislative session means uncertainty for many bills

By Jane McClure As February drew to a close, uncertainty was a watchword at the state capitol. Everyone was waiting […]

A 2023 rally is photographed by a member of the crowd. Disability rally days get underway in March.

By Jane McClure

As February drew to a close, uncertainty was a watchword at the state capitol. Everyone was waiting for Minnesota’s budget forecast to be released February 28. That happened as this issue went to press. 

The forecast in turn will let Gov. Tim Walz, legislators, state department and agencies, and disability advocates know how much if any money is available in 2024. 

Typically after the February forecast legislative leaders release spending targets, It’s not even clear yet if the House and Senate will announce spending targets in 2024. That of course depends on whether or not there is money to be spent. 

The message Minnesota disability rights advocates, their organizations and allies have been getting this session is to not make fiscal asks. If anything, fiscal changes brought to the capitol would be used to lay groundwork for 2025, which is a budget year. 

Minnesota’s budget and economic outlook remains stable in the current biennium, according to the state’s Office of Management and Budget. But in December 2023, state officials warned about a significant structural imbalance that constrained the budget outlook for fiscal 2026-2027. 

As of late 2023, the current fiscal year 2024-2025 surplus was projected at $2.4 billion, up $808 million from the end-of-session estimate. That was attributed to factors including higher expected consumer spending, corporate profit growth and the near-term U.S. economic outlook. 

What has raised a red flag is higher estimates in health and human services and education total spending in FY 2024-2027, resulting in a negative structural balance in the next biennium. 

Uncertainty about the forecast is just one factor. Another caveat is that 2024 is one of the shortest legislative sessions in recent memory. Some committees got a late start, which is adding to questions. 

Another wild card is that state lawmakers are dealing with more than 1,300 bills. It’s likely many will not be acted on this session. 

The short session means it is crunch time to get bills to move along. March 22 is the deadline by which bills have to be heard in committee to move ahead. Otherwise, it’s wait until next year. 

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) is working on its priorities, which were recently set by consortium membership. The consortium places legislation in tiers, indicating the level of organizational involvement. While each piece of legislation has its individual and/or organizational champions, the tier system is used to allocate consortium time. 

One third tier item is tied to the state’s housing shortage. A broad-based, separate coalition is leading on Our Future Starts at Home. The request is to have state legislators put a constitutional amendment on the 2024 general election ballot that raises the sales tax 3/8 of 1 percent. This money would provide additional funding for accessible, affordable housing. The tax would potentially raise about $440 million per year. The intent would be for the tax revenues to supplement and not replace existing housing funding. 

Four items are in the top tier. One is a fix to enhanced rate language and additional enhanced rates. A second is changes to the Medical Assistance income and assets limits. A third is changes related to disability accommodations provided by transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. The fourth is to provide direct care support when someone is hospitalized. 

Top-tier bills get the lion’s share of MNCCD and lobbyist time and attention.  
Second tier items typically are led by another party. MNCCD provides a lower level of support. Tier two items this session include working toward a sunset date for subminimum wage, eliminating Medical Assistive for Employed Persons (MA-EPD) premiums, reviews of long-term services and supports, improving consumer-directed services, building more inclusive and accessible playgrounds, and teaching training on ableism and disability justice. Accessible individualized education plans, an inclusive education pilot for home care workers, opening MinnesotaCare for home care workers and providing student grants and loan forgiveness for home care workers are other second-tier proposals. 

Third tier bills are legislative requests that require the least amount of support from MNCCD. One of these is led by the Minnesota Disability Law Center, which is calling for public service and accommodation rights for people with disabilities. 

Other third tier issues are accessible prescription labels, an opt-out for personal care attendant earned sick and safe time, and Gillette Children’s So Minnesotans Can Move initiative. 

Another request is for the Department of Human Services to study overtime, sleep overnights and shifts of more than 24 hours. Changes to Personal Care Attendant and Community First Systems and Supports program policies is another ask, from the Minnesota First providers Alliance. 

The Best life Alliance is seeking a disability waiver rate increase. 

A request for PCA paid family medical leave premiums as taken off of the table and will instead be discussed with the governor’s administration as part of the new collective bargaining agreement. 

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