As adjournment draws near, lawmakers pick up the pace

Advocates for Minnesotans with disabilities are in the home stretch of the 2024 legislative session, as an adjournment date of […]

A person in a wheelchair with a sign taped on the back that says "Disabled and proud"

Advocates for Minnesotans with disabilities are in the home stretch of the 2024 legislative session, as an adjournment date of May 20 is coming up quickly. And while the status of some bills is clearer, there are many questions about what is to come. 

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) and other groups continue to meet and provide updates on legislation. One date everyone was eyeing was April 19, which marked a critical deadline for bills. That date was when any proposals with fiscal notes attached needed to have been heard in committees in both the House and Senate. That hard deadline meant many measures with costs attached would be dropping off, and shelved until next year. 

Sean Burke, who leads lobbying efforts for MNCCD, noted that after the Passover break of April 22-23, state lawmakers would delve into the process of preparing larger omnibus bills. That is after this issue of Access Press went to press. 

Fiscal and policy measures previously passed in committees get thrown into the hopper and combined into omnibus bills. That work began in late April, followed by the intensive work of conference committees and the work to prepare committee reports. 

What comes out of the conference committees then heads to the floors of the House and Senate for consideration. 

End to subminimum wage? 

One of the most controversial issues that is moving ahead is that of eliminating subminimum wage. A 2021 legislative task force on eliminating subminimum wage recommended state lawmakers end the practice by August 1, 2025, with a phased implementation period. 

The wage program allows employers to pay people with disabilities a low wage. It was set up in 1938 and was long seen as a way to provide a small amount of income to workers who otherwise would not be hired in the greater marketplace. It’s most often used by service providers in workshop-type settings, to provide or prepare goods for sale.   But with so much training and more supports available today, foes of subminimum wage say it devalues people and should be abolished. They say that advances in training and support services have made it possible for people with disabilities to pursue careers of their own choosing based on their skills and interests.

A person writing on a sign to hold at the rally day.
Rally days are a great place to get a message across.

Supporters of eliminating subminimum waged contend that practice is unfair and must be banned. But others worry that banning subminimum wages will eliminate jobs for some people with disabilities, especially those with limited skills. 

Qualified employers have been authorized to pay these workers less than the applicable minimum wage. These employers must hold what is known as a 14c waiver. About 50 employers in Minnesota have such waivers. 

According to the Minnesota Coalition for Disability Wage Justice, the average Minnesotan under a 14c waiver makes $4.15 an hour. Some are paid much less. One report was that there is person paid 7 cents per hour, although that could not be verified by Access Press. 

On April 15, the House passed language to end subminimum wages, with the House version passing on a tight 69-62 vote. The Senate passed the measure earlier in April.

Here’s the proposal heading into omnibus bill time. The subminimum wage would be phased out, with employers would not be allowed to hire for less than minimum wage beginning August 1, 2026. Employers would have to pay all existing employees with disabilities the relevant minimum wage by August 1, 2028. 

Efforts continue on other fronts to phase out the subminimum wages. In March, the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration completed a statewide training program to help eight Minnesota organizations transition away from special certificates that allowed them to pay workers with disabilities below the minimum wage.  The organizations can opt to continue to receive technical assistance from ICI as they work to implement the new service models, which involve training staff how to prepare people with disabilities for competitive integrated employment, said ICI’s Danielle Mahoehney. 

“Different providers are at different stages in this process, but it’s gratifying to see progress from each of them in the kind of transformational change that is required to go from sheltered workshops to competitive jobs,” she said.  Organizations in the program can get help with training grants and move toward integrated employment. 

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