Despite a chaotic session end; many gains are celebrated

It was win some and wait until 2025 for the disability community, as the Minnesota Legislature’s 2024 session came to […]

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It was win some and wait until 2025 for the disability community, as the Minnesota Legislature’s 2024 session came to a tumultuous end. Chaos erupted in the House and Senate chambers before the gavels fell at the midnight May 19 constitutional deadline.  

What generated the most angst was a 1,430-page bill that was a melding of nine separate bills. Republicans loudly decried the tactic of introducing such a lengthy bill so late in the session, shouting “Follow the rules!” and “Tyranny!” and even chanting “U-S-A!” 

Disability advocates and organization staffers were still poring through legislation as May came to an end. The time crunch at session’s end didn’t allow for detailed overviews of the bills as they were voted on. 

Still, some losses were all too clear. A bonding bill didn’t pass, meaning a wide range of infrastructure improvements must wait. That includes needed accessibility improvements around the state.  Efforts to get a state Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) on the November 2026 ballot fell short as the clock ran out in the Senate. The current version of the ERA includes protections for people with disabilities.  The ERA was a flash point throughout the session, with 14 ½ hours’ debate in the House during the session’s final hours. Language on abortion access and gender identity caused the most controversy. 

ERA supporters immediately called for a special session, an idea rejected by Gov. Tim Walz. 

One frustration for many disability advocates was the failure to definitively sunset subminimum wages paid to people with disabilities. A task force recommendation is on the table to end the practice by August 1, 2025, with a phased implementation period. A measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate. 

Since the 1930s, employers have been allowed to pay disabled workers a lower wage. Most often used in workshop setting, subminimum wage supporters contend that without such programs, some people wouldn’t have work at all.  Advocates wanted more progress on eliminating the pay practice, arguing that gains in training and support services have made it possible for people with disabilities to pursue careers of their own choosing. The Disability Wage Justice Coalition will work on the measure for 2025. 

Another closely watched proposal that didn’t reach the finish line was medical aid in dying, or the end-of-life options act. Both sides ran high-profile campaigns for and against physician-assisted suicide. 

The bill made progress in the House but not in the Senate. Versions of the bill have been at the capitol for more than a decade. 

But there were accomplishments to celebrate. The Mental Health Network and NAMI Minnesota were pleased so see many initiatives approved. Go to namimn.org to read a report on everything passed. 

A huge focus for mental health advocates is to find more funding to cover the costs of care, to address the state’s mental health crisis. 

For the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD), the results were mixed. Trevor Turner, who leads efforts at the capitol for the Minnesota Council on Disability and MNCCD, said work will start right away on 2025 legislative requests. He said that despite the session’s chaotic end, those who worked on legislation this session should feel positive about what was accomplished. 

“I think we have a lot to be happy about,” he said. 

Sean Burke, who leads intergovernmental relations work for MNCCD and its agenda, agreed. He said gains should be recognized. So should efforts to prepare for 2025, which is a budget year. 

Work that will be ongoing includes scrutiny of Medical Assistance income and assets limits, and reforms for Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities.  Progress was made on personal care attendant (PCA) and homecare worker measures championed by advocate Damon Leivestad, including work on enhanced rates and worker benefits. A big win here is that direct care staff can now provide services when a client is hospitalized. 

Many other measures supported by disability service organizations did pass, ranging from accessible prescription bottle labeling to standardizing disability parking signs to get rid of the word “handicapped.” Needed clarifications for service animal use passed, to broaden the definition of disability and provide the legal right to have a service animal. 

A big win is a first-of-its-kind law that will promote teacher training on the disability justice movement and ableism. The work will be led by people with disabilities. It is seen as a way to create cultural competence on disability issues. It is celebrated especially by advocates on the autism spectrum. A goal is to represent disability as a culture rather than a medical condition. 

Another positive step is amendments to the state human rights act, to including coverage for people with episodic disabilities. Episodic disabilities are characterized by fluctuating periods of wellness and disability.  Gains were also made in reform of the guardianship program. The Council on Disability will lead a task force this fall that will look at guardianship reform and what changes should be made to guardianships and conservatorships that affect Minnesotans with disabilities. 

Guardianship immunity has been repealed, which is seen as providing more protection against guardianship abuse. 

Another gain is the Minnesota RISE Act’s passage. RISE stands for Response, Innovate, Succeed and Empower. It focuses on accessibility and right for disabled students in Minnesota’s higher education institutions. The act is seen as improving the educational experience for Minnesota students. 

A win for parts of Greater Minnesota is $24 million in aid for emergency medical assistance providers in Greater Minnesota to Minnesota’s Emergency Medical Services Greater Minnesota and $6 million for a pilot program aimed at improving EMS delivery in the northeastern parts of the state. That’s a small amount compared to the $120 million advocates sought, but it is seen as a step in the right direction. The bill also created a new Office of Emergency Medical Services to oversee the state’s EMS network.

Worker shortages have greatly affected medical response in parts of the state. 

Want to know more about bills? Advocacy groups were posting agendas and results as May ended. Readers should check with the groups they are involved with. 

Legislative coverage is prepared by Editor Jane McClure. 

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