The 2017 legislative session ended on time on May 23, only to be followed immediately by a special session. Over the next three days, the Legislature finished the budget bills and sent them to Governor Dayton, who made a line-item veto on the budgets for the House and Senate. The governor wants legislative leaders to come back to the bargaining table to address budget and policy concerns in the education and public safety legislation. The Legislature may try to take the governor to court. Meanwhile, policy and budget provisions for Health and Human Services are final. We didn’t get the wage increases for home care workers. We didn’t get special assistance for the most vulnerable. As Department of Human Services Commissioner Piper has written, most of the “savings” in the legislature’s DHS budget are cost shifts, and as federal health care provisions change, these shifts could put at risk the quality of care for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. All but the top 10% of Minnesotans should be disappointed in the outcomes of this session. The bulk of our surplus was spent on tax rate reductions, which is helpful for a few. The rest of us can be thankful only for the funding for improved roads and bridges.
Its been years since I’ve spent as much time at the Capitol as I did this winter. It reminded me how difficult the job is, to lobby for a cause. Every activist and lobbyist, whether they’re doing their job or making personal efforts for the greater good, deserves our applause for their civic engagement. They help to keep democracy on the right track. It’s very time-consuming, and for most of those I see or know, lobbying is very stressful. Often, I think the stress of waiting is the most difficult part. After explaining your cause to as many policymakers as possible, all you can do is wait. You wait, and hope that promises given are realized, that all your research and passion were transferred to your legislator and that your legislator can lobby the cause as well as, if not better than, you.
An additional stress for me this year was knowing that several lobbyists and advocacy associates I’ve known over the years will soon be retiring. You’ll read about their contributions to the community elsewhere in this issue, but for me, personally, Anne Henry and Steve Larson are two leaders I will sorely miss. They have both played significant roles in pretty much every piece of legislation that has benefited the disability community over decades. In my book, these two cannot be replaced. They will have successors, and we can only wish those folks well in developing the breadth of Anne’s and Steve’s professional contacts, their deep historical knowledge, and the confidence that so many have in them, including most high-ranking Minnesota officials.
It’s kind of fun to walk through the Capitol, the Senate office building or the House state office building and watch how many times someone nods at Anne and Steve and says hello, and how often they are stopped to be questioned about this or that (usually, it’s something you had no idea they knew about, or, more often, it’s something you had no clue about). Also, it’s great to look around and see all the people that one of these two has mentored, given direction to and worked alongside as mentors, to help support our disability community.
Their legacy is a call for action. Many of us can and should start mentoring and bringing younger people into the realm of civic engagement. We know we can’t replace the wisdom of Steve and Anne but we can make them proud of each of us by giving what they gave to us: that constant help, those many answers, the hope and support. Someone did this for them, and one way we can show our appreciation would be to pay it forward.
Remembering that there were a lot of voices and advocates in the Capitol this session, I want to thank everyone who worked on all the disability issues throughout the legislative season. I hope that we can be more successful next year. Meanwhile, summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street.
Let’s get out there and advocate!