And they’re off. The January 8 start for the 2019 Minnesota Legislature brings an outpouring of bills to state lawmakers’ desks. Groups including the Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD) and Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD), as well as many single-issue coalitions and groups, have started making the rounds to the governor’s and legislators’ offices.
MCD and MNCCD presented legislative updates last month. Legislators and political caucuses have also started to announce their session goals. Here’s a look at what to expect:
Lawmakers are ready
Legislators have already announced many of their priorities, including rectifying a seven percent cut made last year to waiver services. New House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL – Fridley) told those at the MCD legislative forum that she and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) have discussed the cut, which took effect July 1, 2018.
State lawmakers in 2018 passed measures to undo the cut, but former Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of a large omnibus bill set the restored funding and many other measures aside. The cut also withstood a legal challenge last year. The funding cut could ultimately affect more than 32,000 Minnesotans who receive services through the Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS) and as many as 100,000 direct care workers. Hortman said she hopes that with a solid Minnesota financial picture and bipartisan support, eliminating the cut is something that could be done quickly.
Last month Hortman also announced that a package of bills from the DFL caucus will reflect the “Minnesota Values Plan” first released in the fall. The focus will be on issues including accessible and affordable health care through a MinnesotaCare buy-in option, paid sick time and family leave, education investments and improvements to public infrastructure. The bills were to be unveiled January 9, after this issue of Access Press went to press.
The personal care attendant (PCA) staffing crisis, changes to complex care and who qualifies, and the DWRS are among issues the Senate will be focused on. Sen. Jerry Relph (R- St. Cloud) told the MCD gathering that he will again bring in legislation to change the complex care requirement, lowering it to 10 hours of care. That should open up more people for the higher pay rate that complex care provides. The effort to open up complex care was one of many measures that faced the veto pen.
Minnetonka resident and advocate Diane Drost spoke about the workforce crisis. Her family has had difficulty finding care for her daughter, who is quadriplegic.
“Over the past 13 years, we’ve seen the steady decline of people available to work as PCAs,” Drost said. She was a member of a cross-agency working group that recently made several workforce recommendations to the Olmstead Sub-Cabinet. Drost is asking state lawmakers to consider the many report recommendations, including one to set up a service corps pilot program. Minnesota college students could work as direct support providers and in turn get scholarships.
State officials in the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) are working on several disability-related issues. They’ll be doing so with a new commissioner. Tony Lourey was named commissioner January 3, replacing Emily Johnson Piper.
Workforce issues and the staffing crisis have occupied much DHS time, including work on rate frameworks and how services are paid for. DWRS is another major focus, to look at how rates are established and how rates keep pace with economic and cost of living needs.
Streamlining of the home and community based waiver services will also take be in the spotlight. In 2019 state lawmakers directed DHS to conduct a study on reconfiguring the disability home and community-based services waivers. The other study centers on establishing individual budgeting methodology for all the services. DHS and a contractor combined the topics into a single study called the Waiver Reimagine Project. Watch for a report and recommendations to be issued this month.
DHS representatives at the MCD forum said it’s likely the state will move forward with a two-tiered waiver system instead of the four separate waivers currently in place. Making services more easily understandable is yet another goal.
DHS also intends to bring forward 2018 measures that didn’t pass, including changes to the MnChoices program, and the electronic visit verification system for PCAs.
MCD has two primary themes in its 2019 legislative work, in the form of accessibility-related bills and bills with a focus on independence and equity. MCD will continue its partnership with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) so that the state’s 75 state parks and recreation areas are fully inclusive for guests with a range of disabilities. The goal is to be ready for the 2020 session, which is a bonding year.
A second measure MCD is working on is to amend statutory language on the accessibility of public buildings. MCD staff describe the measure as “housekeeping” to clarify what the state’s obligations. A third is accessibility and inclusivity of assisted and independent living, a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Department of Health.
MCD will also continue its transportation-related efforts. The council has worked for years on the issue of self-driving vehicles and what it would take to make those legal and widely accessible in Minnesota. A second focus is transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, to ensure their services are equitable and accessible for people with disabilities.
MNCCD has “independence, choice and access” atop its legislative agenda for 2019. The consortium will work with several groups on its legislative agenda.
MNCCD’s legislative agenda includes work with many other organizations. “Each one of our policy priorities is brought forward by a membership organization,” said Marnie Falk of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. She chairs the consortium’s board.
The legislative agenda is organized around five goals: helping people live and thrive in their home communities, ensuring access to coverage and supports, making quality programs available, protecting dignity and safety, and investing in research and education. MNCCD then ranks legislative efforts in three priority tiers.
MNCCD’s top-tier legislative priorities are to streamline Medical Assistance (MA) Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) enrollment and renewal, improve and protect MA, repeal the state’s preferred incontinence products program and work on PCA rate reform.
The second tier priorities are to help re-establish a statewide Autism Commission and fund statewide autism-related training for first responders. Another second-tier effort is to work with the Best Life Alliance to protect access to services that help people with disabilities to live and work as independently as possible. Helping to remove barriers and open up Consumer-Directed Community Supports (CDCS) for more participants, promote group homes focused on residents with fetal alcohol syndrome, and reforming MnCHOICES’ assessment processes to help individuals and families are additional second-tier efforts.
The second-tier efforts also include work to reform how mental health records’ medical information is shared, and to allow an applicant for drivers’ licenses, identification cards, and permits to submit up to three emergency contacts for first responders.
MNCCD and MCD will also work together on state parks access needs.
Four items are in the third tier. One is to preserve the tax tied to the Health Care Access Fund, which is to sunset at the end of the year. Many groups statewide are working to continue the tax.
A rate methodology and funding for daycare for children with complex medical needs is another third-tier request. A statewide grant program to help qualifying nonprofits get grants for adaptive fitness, and putting a definition of an adaptive fitness center into law is also on the docket. So is the creation of a rare disease advisory council to advise on records, diagnoses, education and treatment of rare diseases. Minnesota doesn’t have such a council.
MNCCD is working with more than a dozen partners on its legislative agenda. Each agenda item has a lead agency, said Falk. The consortium has long used a tier system to determine how much support it will give to each agenda item.
Looking for session information? Following a bill? Trying to find a state lawmaker? The Minnesota Legislature website has all kinds of information. Go to www.leg.state.mn.us for more information.