Editor's Column - February 2012

Well, winter is half over and we’ve hardly had any snow or cold. No one I talk to has had to complain this year about blocked access due to snowdrifts. Although I was born here and have lived in Minnesota for the past 40 years, I grew up in Arizona. Until I was in my very late teens, I had never seen snow fall. Missing the snow this year is okay with me.

The legislative session began with a big bang, with the vote against confirming Gov. Mark Dayton’s Public Utility Commissioner, Ellen Anderson. I don’t think Anderson’s knowledge of alternative energies is necessarily a bad thing for someone in her position, especially when her decisions over the past 10 months showed that she could balance the public’s interest in a variety of energy sources. The media reported that the vote was mostly payback from one side of the aisle to another for not confirming one of our previous governor’s commissioner appointees. Blow-for-blow, tit-for-tat, even score? Or will there be another payback, and then who will be affected most deeply? We all oppose these games from our legislators. Whichever side of the aisle it comes from, it always hurts the constituents.

Around the state, people with disabilities have been watching the news about the terrible injuries to several of our male and female high school hockey players this year. We have to be concerned about the number of injuries in high school sports. I wondered how many disabling injuries happen that are not as widely reported as these recent hockey injuries, and found a good source of information at the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. It turns out that ice hockey does not have a record as a particularly dangerous sport, especially when compared to field hockey or football. But all of the numbers are much higher than they should be. Our high school athletes have to be very cautious and the rules have to be enforced, to maintain the safety and enjoyment of these extracurricular activities. Sports activities are such a huge part of young peoples’ growth and development. It’s important for our youth to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and team sports can build a strong sense of community and citizenry. But all sports activities should provide encouraging, structured activities with rules and boundaries in order to have positive and safe results.

A veteran disability activist who is also a long-term employee of the St. Paul School District is about to lose everything he has worked for while on the state’s Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities program. Charles Van Heuveln will hit the program’s age limit of 65 in a couple months and will have to give up his earned pension to be eligible for Medical Assistance and receive personal care attendant (PCA) services. Van Heuveln has challenged Minnesota legislators to try accepting the same provisions, but none of them has stepped up to this challenge. Only one legislator, Rep. Alice Hausman, (DFL District 66B—not Van Heuveln’s district), has responded to this dilemma. Recently, Access Press spoke with Loren Colman, Assistant Commissioner of Community Care Administration at the Department of Human Services. He said that he is aware of Van Heuveln’s situation and confirmed that MA-EPD has not kept pace with the needs of those reaching age 65 with disabilities. DHS is waiting for new rulings from the governor and the Minnesota Legislature. Rep. Hausman and Rep. Paymar have agreed they would re-introduce the bill [Sen. Sheran, Asset Limit Modification bill] that didn’t pass last year. “At least one reason it didn’t advance last year was the cost; new initiative were not considered. As Charles pointed out, it’s ultimately a pennywise, pound-foolish, it will cost far more if Charles gives up independent living and moves to a care facility. Charles isn’t alone, there are many people who have been adversely affected by ‘no new taxes, limited government’ era,” Hausman said. Unfortunately for Chuck, their decisions won’t come in time for him to save his liberty and self-reliance. This is a situation where they’re just taking away what people have worked for as they were encouraged to do by our society and by the MA-EPD program. Our legislators need to look at this as being a moral and ethical responsibility as much as a fiscal issue.

I look forward to seeing you at the capitol over the next couple months. Don’t forget that pretty much every Tuesday, disability issues are addressed and there are many disability activists demonstrating and lobbyists leading discussions, all to preserve our autonomy.

Everyone stay warm and safe.