Editor's Column - May 2013

By the time you read this, the Minnesota Legislature may have gone into special session, or we might have gotten lucky and our 2013 legislative session will be completed. There were rumors on May 3 that the legislators wanted to wrap up within two weeks. Time will tell if they make it—but only a little time is left. A couple months ago I told you that I was feeling a little disconnected at the capitol; maybe others, including our lawmakers, were feeling the same.

Many unexpected controversies arose in this session, with unpredicted outcomes, considering that the body was single-party-controlled. Maybe the DFL party had forgotten how it works to lead after so many years of not being the majority party. Several of the issues concerning people with disabilities were shelved, although we thought they would be slam-dunks.

There was a lot of controversy over the tax plan that Gov. Mark Dayton laid out, and as I write this on May 7, no tax bill has passed. Obviously, without knowing what the revenue situation is, it’s hard for legislators to vote on other funding bills that will need new revenue. The DFL clearly wants to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. I was under the impression, and it was Dayton’s election platform, that we were going to raise taxes and undo the damage to health and human services programs that had taken place over the last 10 years. I sure didn’t expect our DFL legislature to cut programs and maintain high parental fees and co-pays. But indeed, after the debate over the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill, it seems like program cuts and increases in co-pays and parental fees are in our future.

Without knowing what funds are available, the issues concerning Medical Assistance eligibility remain in limbo. It does look like one hundred percent of the federal poverty guideline (approximately $600) will remain the MA qualifier for people with disabilities, leaving us with less income than nondisabled Minnesotans on the same state-funded programs. In one bright spot for some, it does appear that the spousal disregard will remain in the omnibus bills. That is probably because the spousal disregard does not increase state costs. But the disregard still needs authorization by the federal government, according to the federal Affordable Healthcare Act.

There was a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL – Minneapolis) that arose from a grassroots idea to increase research funding for traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury (“Get Up Stand Up for the Cure”). Matthew Roderick, the idea man behind the bill, did not expect much opposition, but there was plenty. The late Christopher Reeve learned this lesson in his quest for cure not care, although Reeve eventually did recognize that care is vital, and that dignity and quality-of-life deserve funding as well as research.

Reeve was quadriplegic for approximately nine years before his death, which was caused by infected pressure sores. What killed him was a challenge for all paralyzed people that require care above all, and secondarily, better research about wound care and prevention.

Roderick has written for Access Press a thoughtful summary of his first-year of in-depth legislative experience and the lessons he’s learned. The most important message of his lobbying efforts is that you cannot give up: get up, speak up. There is always one more person you can convince and one more year to introduce your legislation and prove it is good for the state and money spent well. He has an uphill battle to convince legislators and some in the disability community.

He has persuaded a lot of folks in the disability community already, though. If it isn’t funded at the state level, maybe it should be at the federal level, where such legislation may have more of an impact.

We’ve had several false starts, but it looks like spring is finally here after a long, cold and difficult winter. Enjoy the sun, the air, and even the rain…and stay safe.