Advocacy groups gear up for 2012 session

Representatives of Minnesota’s numerous disability advocacy groups are already making treks to the state capitol. The Jan. 24 start of the legislative session has kicked a number of lobbying efforts into high gear. Several groups have already announced their advocacy days.

Despite what has been touted as a short legislative session, disability community members will be involved in a number of lobbying efforts. Not only will a large group work on issues through the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD), a number of advocacy groups are bringing forward their own agendas.

But advocacy groups also have to respond to proposed legislation. One proposal that is raising red flags for those who live in or work at group homes is out of Burnsville, where concerns about a spike in police calls to group homes has promoted a proposal to limit the number of such facilities per community. According to a recent Star Tribune article, Burnsville officials began discussing the law enforcement costs tied to group homes as part of 2012 budget deliberations. “We might get three or four calls the same day on the same person,” Burnsville Police Chief Bob Hawkins said. “It really started to drain our resources.” One concern for police is that some group home calls are when residents are angry with each other or with staff.

The calls accounted for 78 of the 230 police calls to group homes in 2011. That’s up from 2009, when just 12 of the 239 calls to group homes. The costs and time are a concern, so in the city’ 2012 legislative platform, Burnsville is asking for state help in regulating the concentration of group homes in neighborhoods or cities. If the law passes it would be statewide. City officials cite the strain on city resources in having too many group homes in one area.

Minnesota currently has a statewide moratorium on licensed corporate adult foster care facilities.

Many Minnesota cities already regulate group homes. In St. Paul and Minneapolis, for example, the number of homes or community residential facilities is regulated through zoning.

“The impact to a neighborhood is pretty detrimental if two or three [group homes] cluster together,” Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. She said concerns center on property values. The city is also trying to encourage more owner-occupied homes. Burnsville has 50 licensed group homes and an unknown number of unlicensed facilities.

Bruce Nelson of the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota, an organization that represents group home providers, told the newspaper that trying to limit the locations of those facilities is wrong. “Would a community that is seeing an influx of people of color or another non-Caucasian ethnicity move to control the concentration, if you will, of those folks? Why are people with disabilities any different than anybody else in having a right to live in our neighborhoods that belong to all of us?”

Sign up for advocacy days MN-CCD sponsors Tuesdays at the Capitol. Attend these sessions every Tuesday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and learn how to be an effective advocate for yourself or for a family member.

Groups sponsor some days but not every advocacy day is on a Tuesday. The days begin on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. No session is held April 10 because state lawmakers will be on spring break. MN-CCD will be at the capitol to help people share their stories about the importance of disability services with legislators and to ensure there is a disability community presence at the capitol. The consortium offers tips and help for those attending the days. One of the first steps is to contact Anni Simons, either at asimons@arcmn.org  or at 651-523-0823, ext. 112. Advocates should let her know which Tuesdays they plan to attend and what accommodations will be needed.

Each Tuesday starts at 10 a.m. with a briefing on current disability policy issues and a review of tips for meeting with legislators, a document with general speaking points around disability services to share with legislators, specific issue information when appropriate, and the legislative hearing schedule for the day with highlights of particularly relevant hearings. Assistance will be available for locating legislative offices and/or accompanying advocates to meetings with legislators. Help is also available if advocates haven’t prepared their personal stories in advance.

It is best to set up meetings with state lawmakers well in advance. Call 1-800-657-3550, or go to www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts  to find contact information. MN-CCD and other groups typically end their training at 10:30 a.m. so try to set up meetings after 10:45 a.m. with your legislator

Advocates should bring informaction, typically no more than one page, to tell their personal stories. Fact sheets from specific disability advocacy groups are also helpful.

There are options for lunch. Either Bring food or purchase food in the accessible cafeteria of the Transportation Building (connected to capitol and State Office Building by accessible underground tunnel).

Check for parking information at www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/capitolcmplx.asp  Several Metro Transit buses stop near the capitol and State Office Building.

The largest of the advocacy events is the annual Disability Day at the Capitol, set for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, April 4. This event is sponsored by several advocacy groups. Preregistration is due by Monday, March 26. For a flyer on this event, go to http://tinyurl.com/86ede9c

Arc’s Day at the Capitol was Jan. 31, after deadline for this issue of Access Press.

Mental Health Day on the Hill, is led by NAMI-Minnesota, is Tuesday, Feb. 14. The day begins with a 10 a.m. briefing at Christ Lutheran Church, which is on University Avenue just northwest of the capitol. This will be followed with a noon rally in the state capitol rotunda. Advocates can then visit their state legislators between 1-3 p.m.

The Mental Health Legislative Network has chartered a number of buses, each beginning in different locations, to make it easier for people to attend. Buses will start from Winona, Kerkhoven (Willmar),

Marshall, Fergus Falls, Duluth and Baxter, each making multiple stops along the way. The NAMI website contains links for people needing to set up timers to talk to their state lawmakers. The website links can also help advocates make bus transportation arrangements or find convenient parking near the capitol. Go to www.namihelps.org

Another advocacy day is Thursday, March 1, when ARRM sponsors its Day at the Capitol. Typically about 1,000 people attend this event, including direct support professionals (DSPs), mid and executive level provider management, self-advocates, and family members. ARRM is seeking participants as well as sponsors for this event. Go to www.arrm.org  for more details.

Other upcoming advocacy days include Courage Center’s Advocacy Day, Tuesday, March 6, web link www.couragecenter.org; Lutheran Social Services advocacy day Tuesday, March 20, web link www.lssmn.org; MCIL/DSPAM Day, Thursday, March 15, web link www.mcil-mn.org

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