In early September, many of the advocacy organizations are putting together their 2018 legislative agendas, prioritizing and discussing what issues are most relevant to their constituents. At noon on February 20, 2018, the 90th Minnesota Legislature will reconvene its regular session, but over the next few months, committee meetings and discussions of a wide variety of issues will be held. As the advocates and lobbyists are getting prepared you can stay informed by using the newspapers and social media like Twitter and Facebook. Once the committee meetings begin, there will be live television from the capitol. You can find the sessions on TV on the Minnesota Channel, and many are streamed live on the legislature’s website. Also, after conference committees get going, and bills are being introduced and given “file numbers,” you can follow them by signing up for “mybills.” You can sign up here.
With a little searching on this website you can also find out who your legislators in the House and Senate are and stay in close contact with them. Plan to make visits, email, send snail mail and make plenty of phone calls. Get to know them, and get to know their assistants. Often, it’s easier to make contact with the assistant to relay a message to your legislator than it is to get hold of a legislator directly. Also, the legislative assistant may have more background information on how your legislator is thinking about any specific bill. Sound familiar? Think about it; don’t your assistants and caregivers sometimes know how you are thinking and feeling about a specific topic?
Remember, you have to be a teacher, and inform the legislator and assistant with as many specifics as possible about any particular bill that you’re interested in. Tell them plainly how it affects you, your friends and family. Explain the impact of your issue and offer a solution that would be positive for a majority of Minnesotans.
As an example, my priority is how to streamline the PCA program so that it will be sustainable, fair and equitable for most Minnesotans. Without quality PCAs we will lose our independence, and our government needs to recognize this clearly. They need to see how losing their independence will affect senior citizens and people with every kind of disability in communities throughout Minnesota. The downside of the great, low unemployment rate is it’s hard to find people that need jobs, and to compete with businesses paying higher wages for lower-skilled, trainable workers.
All of us who are using the PCA program must get involved. As most of you know, it’s a real crisis situation. The PCA union (SEIU) had negotiated last session with the Minnesota Legislature on wages and other benefits but the legislature DID NOT raise the reimbursement rate high enough to cover those wages and benefits. Many of our agencies could be going out of business if we don’t advocate for them. Tell your legislators and everyone that will listen to you about your story and encourage your agency leaders to come in and tell their stories as well. There’s a saying that legislators don’t see the light until they feel the heat, and we have to put the heat on to make sure they understand and see the light of this unresolved crisis in home care.
Another topic that you might want to heat up for your legislators is durable goods. One of the Twin Cities’ durable goods companies has gone out of business because of the competitive bidding options that have gone into effect recently. At the 11th hour of the last legislative session, language restricting availability of incontinence products was slipped into statute without much community input. If we don’t get this legislation removed we could be losing more medical supply companies. Because of the restricted bidding options, we will certainly be getting a much lower quality product than we are used to. Most of us in the disability community use some sort of incontinence products so it will be affecting most every one of us. We have an article on the front page about this topic, and Access Press will keep you informed on what our durable good agencies are doing and how we can help them.
On a much more exciting note, the Access Press Board of Directors has chosen Mark Braun for the 2017 Charlie Smith award. Mark is a pretty incredible young man. Besides being a great athlete he has the charisma that draws people to him, a champion much like Charlie. I hope everyone will attend the award banquet to give kudos to this young Team USA Paralympic athlete and a strong up and coming advocate. Many of us in the “old guard” are looking for younger folks with disabilities to get involved, and this young guy will be among the next-generation leaders in our community.
Hope you made it out to the State Fair and enjoyed this summer of good weather. Keep the folks in Texas in your thoughts.