The 2021 Minnesota legislative session has shifted into high gear as bill deadlines are coming up quickly at the state capitol. While having committee and floor session available online offers convenience, self-advocates are finding it difficult to reach out to state lawmakers in the usual ways.
One irony at a Senate committee hearing in mid-February on personal care attendant rate reform was that an advocate scheduled to testify was dealing with staff scheduling issues that day and was unable to appear virtually.
Deadlines are coming up fast. Committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin by Friday, March 12. By Friday, March 19 committees must act favorably on bills, or companions of bills, that met the first deadline in the other body.
By Friday, April 9, committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bill. The regular session is to end May 17.
A lot of disability-related legislation is still in the queue but it’s not clear what will make it to the next level and what will be in the “what until next year” pile. Many bills still lack fiscal notes, which give lawmakers an idea of what a program or service would cost.
Hovering over everything is the state budget and how it has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates for spending increases or holding the line on a myriad of programs and services worry about how a projected state budget deficit of $1.27 billion for fiscal year 2022-2023 will play out. That could impact small budgets like that for the Minnesota Council on Disability to large budgets such as that of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Services provided by the Minnesota Olmstead office, State Services for the Blind, Minnesota Commission for the Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing as well as programs for people with developmental disabilities, paratransit and rehabilitative services.
The budget situation is impacting recently added programs. Spinal cord and traumatic brain injury advocates are raising red flags about the elimination of what has become a $6 million in research funding in the state budget. The research funding was one of many items eliminated as Gov. Tim Walz’s administration made difficult choices.
Another frustration this session is that of bill processing through the state revisor’s office. Many bills including those for disability-related issues were continuing under language introduced in 2020.