Key business isn't done with gridlock, disputes at capitol

Key business isn't done with gridlock, disputes at capitol

A July special session of the Minnesota Legislature is coming up, as state lawmakers failed to pass several key measures when they met June 12-20. 

The week-long special session adjourned without action on critical bills, including the bonding bill. Even years are bonding sessions in Minnesota, when an array of brick-and-mortar projects win approval. Improvements to state academies, state hospitals and treatment facilities, and state parks accessibility improvements are among the many issues left hanging in June. Also left waiting are Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods seeking assistance to rebuild in the wake of unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd. 

Another unresolved big issue is the allocation of $2.1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money that Minnesota received under the CARES Act. 

The COVID-19 pandemic hung over the regular and special sessions. One point of contention between Republican lawmakers is Gov. Walz’s use of special executive authority to respond to pandemic and community unrest. Walz’s current peacetime emergency ends July 12. 

House Democrats blocked an attempt by Senate Republicans to remove the governor’s emergency authority. 

One important bill passed extends several waivers that have been put in place by Commissioner of Human Services Jodi Harpstead during the peacetime emergency, with a 60-day ramp-down in place for some of the measures at the end of the peacetime emergency. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) and other groups have been conferring weekly with DHS on waivers. 

ARRM, a statewide group which provides residential supports and community-based services, has outlined some of the key waivers for its service providers. The ability to provide remote supports for certain Home and Community Based Services has been extended to June 30, 2021. The temporary absence extension for housing support is extended to December 30. 

Disability advocacy groups saw some gains, including the passage of the Health and Human services omnibus and education policy bills. Bills are being reviewed to fully assess gains for special education, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health, residential facilities and an array of programs. But efforts toward more pay, including pandemic-related compensation, for personal care workers again stalled. 

The health and human services bill passed after state leaders removed language giving the Department of Human Services (DHS) commissioner authority to waive certain rules and regulations during the pandemic. The language raised objections during the regular session. 

ARRM is touting several regulatory wins for its member service providers. That includes measures affecting resident housing and staff training. One gain is a requirement that staff must be trained on “strategies to minimize the risk of sexual violence, including concepts of healthy relationships, consent and bodily autonomy of people with disabilities.” The Arc Minnesota, STAR Services and other groups will work with ARRM to meet the new requirement. 

Work is also underway to address three disability policy statements, spelling out that Minnesota is an “Employment First, Independent Living First and Self-Direction First” state. Work is being done with an eye on the 2021 legislative session. 

National Alliance for the mentally Ill (NAMI) Minnesota is among the groups outlining gains, including changes to the commitment act, changes to treatment of children and youth in mental health crisis, and changes in policy language on psychiatric residential treatment facilities related to prior authorization and waiting lists. 

Efforts to help students are a win for mental health advocates. One measure passed requires all teachers in Minnesota to have specific training in student mental health and suicide prevention. Another requires other forms of intervention before suspending or expelling students in early childhood, pre-K programs. 

Managing Editor Jane McClure wrote this issue’s legislative coverage.