Advocacy groups prepare for 2021 legislative session

Advocacy groups prepare for 2021 legislative session

 It’s beginning to look a lot like … the start of the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature. Lawmakers gavel into action January 5, for what promises to be a long and complex several months. 

Legislative agendas for 2021 were underway even as lawmakers went through several special sessions needed during the pandemic. Dozens of groups will be bringing forward action items. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 promises to be another difficult year. 

Much of the 2020 session was forced online, creating challenges for self-advocates and lobbyists who are missing the days of one-on-one access to their legislators. It will be another tough year in terms of outreach, communication and networking. 

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) is already making plans for its Tuesdays at the Capitol to be held online, rather than in person. Rallies are on hold or shifting to a virtual mode. 

Then there is the pandemic’s impact on the state’s finances. Minnesota’s budget situation is being watched very closely as requests move forward, as the pandemic has devastated parts of the state’s economy. 

While some tax collections have been higher than projected in the spring, a large deficit is still projected. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Franz has indicated that the deficit for the next two-year budget could reach $4.7 billion. That could make any request for additional program or project funding more difficult. 

But the pandemic cannot stop policy and program needs. MNCCD approved its priorities this fall, working in concert with several groups. Its highest-priority or top tier requests include work with the Autism Society of Minnesota on a package of accessibility proposals and working with Arc Minnesota and Minnesota Disability Law Center on a package to transform disability services. 

Fraser has brought forward a proposal to make changes in board-certified behavior analyst or BCBA licensing. That and Cassie’s Law, a focus of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, are second-tier proposals, 

Cassie’s Law would help people with conditions including traumatic brain injuries or strokes who are caught up in the criminal justice system. It provides for a neuropsychological exam during the pre-sentence investigation to assist judges with proper sentencing for people with these injuries or disabilities. The intent is to improve outcomes for people with brain injuries involved in the criminal justice system. 

A third second-tier effort centers on home and community-based services, and hospitalization reimbursement. Lutheran Social Service, Arc Minnesota, Minnesota First Provider Alliance and PCA Reform Coalition are leading the work. 

Gillette Children’s Specialty healthcare is taking charge of a fourth initiative tied to health plans and required diagnoses of treatment and rare diseases, and a fifth initiative to make changes to the recently created rare Disease Advisory council. 

Two more second-tier efforts are tied to the Personal Care Attendant or PCA program. The PCA Reform Coalition, the Minnesota First Provider Alliance and Minnesota First Community Solutions are leading both. One is on rate reform and the other is on driving. 

Two third-tier proposals are moving ahead. One, from the Proof Alliance, would expand the definition of brain injury. The second, from SEIU, is the United Homecare Workers and Clients collective bargaining agreement.