April 5th was a beautiful spring day, and one could understand anyone, including disability advocates, deciding to take a break and enjoy the sunshine. However, we know that with the State Legislature in session, we need to keep an eye on activities at the Capitol and continue to remind legislators about the importance of supports for persons with disabilities and their families. About 175 advocates, representing several disability organizations, gathered to do just that at Disability Day at the Capitol at the Kelly Inn in St. Paul. The event’s cosponsors were The Arc of Minnesota, Advocating Change Together, Brain Injury Association of Minnesota, PACER Center, People First of Minnesota, and United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota.
Even though this wasn’t a budget year for the state legislators, there was plenty for advocates, parents, and self-advocates to discuss.
• Gene Martinez, Senior Policy Advocate of Arc Greater Twin Cities, and Jeff Nachbar, Public Policy Director at the Brain Injury Association, got participants started with specific, concrete tips on being effective public policy advocates.
• Joel Ulland, Co-Chair of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, gave an overview of the 2006 Legislative Session.
• Anne Henry, Minnesota Disability Law Center public policy advocate, discussed efforts by their agency, The Arc of Minnesota, and others, to put a brake on efforts to expand managed care for persons with disabilities and ensure stakeholder involvement in any potential expansion.
• Rick Cardenas, Co-Director of Advocating Change Together, exhorted us to support HF 3476/SF 3182, which would fund self-advocacy training efforts across Minnesota.
• Mark Olson and Richard Grimm of Arc Greater Twin Cities and Joshua Schenck Winters of the Minnesota Council on Non-Profits stressed the importance of voting and getting involved in non-partisan efforts to educate and register voters this year.
• Jeff Nachbar gave an overview of issues of particular concern to those with brain injuries.
• Bob Brick, Public Policy Director for PACER, talked about threats to special education.
• Cindy Johnson, parent and active member on the public policy teams at The Arc of Minnesota and The Arc of the U.S., surveyed the legislative landscape in Congress. She urged us to continue expressing our opposition to federal budget proposals that would cut essential supports.
• Steve Larson, The Arc of Minnesota’s Executive Director, highlighted our successes from the 2005 Legislative Session and the need to build on those in 2006 and 2007, with an emphasis on making human services and supports more consumer-directed.
The afternoon was devoted to visiting legislators. Besides educating their state legislators with fact sheets and talking points, participants gave them plastic scissors that said, “Don’t Cut My Lifeline! Protect Medical Assistance!”
This was supposed to be a relatively quiet year for disability advocates. Yet with self-advocacy funding, special education, and managed care (among other issues) on the legislators’ plate, Disability Day at the Capitol reinforced the need to be involved and educated on policy issues every year – beautiful weather or not.