Bonding requests tell us that the promise of access remains unfulfilled

The 2024 session of the Minnesota Legislature is drawing near. Committees are already meeting to prepare for the February 12 session’s […]

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The 2024 session of the Minnesota Legislature is drawing near. Committees are already meeting to prepare for the February 12 session’s start. 

Legislative agendas are well underway. Advocacy groups are setting their priorities, offering training to self-advocates and lining up needed bill sponsors. Everyone wants to be able to be prepared before the first gavel falls. 

Access Press follows disability-focused legislation closely. One big issue for us to track in 2024 is the bonding bill. We featured some disability-focused requests in our coverage and will continue to follow developments as the session moves ahead. 

Bonding pays for needed new brick-and mortar projects and for physical improvements to state facilities. Bonding is also used to help with local community projects, ranging from bridges to nonprofit community centers. 

One upcoming event of note will be when the governor releases his recommendations. That is when many requests drop off. 

Most of us think of Minnesota as a relatively prosperous state, when compared to other states. There is pride in keeping up needed infrastructure. But scrolling through the numerous bonding requests is cause for pause. 

The bonding bill requests provide a stark and sobering look at many great needs around our state. Some of the requests are as sad as they are striking. Small communities with limited property tax bases must seek bonding for basic needs such as streets and utilities. One small St. Paul suburb’s request notes that most of its streets haven’t had major improvements since the 1960s. That’s more typical than one might expect. 

We at Access Press closely track the requests that involve our state academies and institutions that serve disabled Minnesotans. We also track access-focused requests closely. While new structures and extensively renovated building have plans for up-to-date access accommodations, retrofitting older buildings and facilities can be more challenging. 

Too many public facilities are just not accessible to every single member of the public. We still have buildings on state public college and university campuses that lack basic access features such as elevators and accessible restrooms. 

Many of us enjoy visiting state parks. Yet too many parks lack needed features to help us get out on the trails, into a lodge or beside a lake. We appreciate the recent efforts of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Council on Disability to make parks accessible, but we know that will take years of work and many resources for statewide change. 

We ruefully chuckled as we saw the state’s request for modifications to the tunnel connection for the state capitol complex. The tunnel is especially welcomed during inclement weather. On our rally days when it rains or snows, marchers sometimes wind up in the tunnel. 

But the tunnel’s slope in places is steep and difficult to maneuver. For those who use manually powered wheelchairs, walkers or canes, it’s a workout at the very least. 

The 2024 bonding asks include an $8.5 million request for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-focused upgrades to the tunnel at the state capitol, from the Department of Administration. The proposal would create a new 15-foot-wide by 85-foot-long adjacent section at the east end of the tunnel connecting the capitol and state buildings. The improvement will meet the slope requirements of 12 units of horizontal run for every 1 unit of vertical rise (8.3 percent), as required by the ADA. 

Work would also include the installation of an elevator that will convey wheelchairs and pedestrians with disabilities between the new ADA tunnel and the basement levels of the capitol. The current tunnel would remain in place to serve those who can use it and to maintain the current usage volume capacity of the tunnel section. The tunnel at times can get very congested and uncomfortable when people are backed up and trying to get through. Those of us who feel like turtles when the various state staffers and lobbyists are breezing past us would really appreciate more space. 

More than 33 years ago, the ADA was signed into law. It established the civil right of people with disabilities to live, work and fully participate in their communities. The passage was a highlight in a hard-fought battle. 

As we look at the access-related state bonding request, we see that the battle is far from over. We know there will be difficult choices ahead for the governor and state lawmakers. We know all too well that not every request can be funded. 

We hope access-related requests remain at the forefront. After all, one in four us will become disabled. The ADA gives us expectations for equal access. That includes public facilities. The promise remains unfulfilled in too many places. 

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