Challenging times ahead at the state capitol as session starts

Challenging times ahead at the state capitol as session starts

 The January 5 start of the 2021 Minnesota Legislature has advocacy groups hurrying to get final bill and policy details into place. The COVID-19 pandemic will mean a very different session, with much work done virtually. Advocates don’t expect to be at the capitol, having rallies and meeting in person with lawmakers. 

A large group met online December 17 with the Minnesota Council on Disability, for the annual pre-session review. “The work we do is more vital today, because of the challenges of the time,” said David Dively, council director. 

The council hosted a general session, as well as breakout sessions on topics including mental health, equity and the pandemic. Advocates heard from Gov. Tim Walz and discussed the session with legislators. 

While citing the economic challenges caused by the pandemic, Walz encouraged Minnesotans with disabilities to ask for what they need. “There’s a humanity and a story behind each person … You’re not asking for a new stadium. You’re asking for the same things everybody else has.” 

Trevor Turner is the council’s policy director. The state budget is the most important thing to focus on, to make sure disability services are properly funded. But Turner said there are several other priorities. 

One issue the council will focus on is the Minnesota Human Rights Act and how it ties into workplace accommodations. Minnesota’s act, passed in 1973, is one of the nation’s most progressive. But Turner noted it has conflicts with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when it comes to workplace accommodations. That is an issue to be corrected this session. 

Other legislative priorities are familiar ones to the state’s disability community. One is on personal care attendants’ need to be able to bill for hours spent driving clients to appointments and errands. Another is to continue past sessions’ work on rare diseases, increasing access to insurance and proper care. 

Council leaders also talked about their work to collaborate with other groups, including the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. 

But there are challenges ahead. Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) raised a red flag about the “very volatile” national economic situation. “How that is going to play out is really anybody’s guess,” she said. 

One perennial issue raised is that of the need for more pay for personal care attendants. “We cannot hide behind paying these low wages,” said Lauren Thompson. She and many others have struggled to find enough help to live their daily lives. Others said they are increasingly unable to maintain their employment and their homes if they cannot get enough help. 

Another issue is that of people in group homes, who are isolated since the pandemic began. One woman said her son has been unable to leave his group home since March. 

Other attendees also brought up issues that are important to them including inclusive parenting for parents with disabilities, guardianship, and better access to care for people with bariatric issues. 

The council is posting its legislative agenda online. It also published regular updates during the session. Get details at https://www.disability.state.mn.us/