Legislative Update - April 1999

The following is an update of legislative initiatives relating to people with disabilities.  Many committees are considering disa­bility related legislation.  For example, the Direct Care Work­ers’ cost of living increase and the Waiting List legislation are coming out of the Health and Human Service Committee; funding for Metro Mobility comes out of the Transportation Committee; funding for Common Vision comes out of Jobs and Economic Development, and so on.  Action on many of the bills has taken place and they are waiting for inclusion in the various omnibus, or funding, bills.  Until a bill is included in the omnibus bill, funding for it is not guaranteed. 

Each of these committees will combine related initiatives into an omnibus bill, which then must be passed on the House or Senate floor.  An omnibus bill is the final bill to come out of a com­mittee, and includes all the bills passed by that committee.  Once omnibus bills are passed, they go to the conference commit­tee, where differences between House and Senate versions of bills are worked out.  Prior to a bill becoming law, there must be agreement by both Houses as to the final language of the bill.  If differences cannot be resolved, a bill may be dropped from inclusion.

Information for this article was provided by disability advocates working on these bills.  This is the most up-to-date information as we go to press. 

The Waiting List Bill S.F. 288/H.F.345

Currently there are about 3300  persons who have been screened and determined eligible  for the Mental Retardation/ Related Conditions Home and Community Based Services waiver program.  There are also 900 people waiting for the Family Support Program, and another 500 are waiting for the Semi-Independent Living Skills Program.  It is common for people to wait five, ten, or more years before they receive the needed services.  Most must face a crisis before they get served through these programs.  Arc Minnesota is seeking $30 million for the biennium  to fund this initiative.

The bill has received hearings in policy and finance committees in both the House and Senate.  It has been referred to the Finance Divisions for Health & Human Services in both the House and Senate for consideration of funding in the Health & Human Services Omnibus bills.

Metro Mobility

The Metropolitan Council has proposed $40.1 million to fund Metro Mobility for the next two years, a $5.5 million increase that would result in increased service.  The Governor has requested that amount be trimmed to $38.6 million.  If the Governor’s pro­posal passes, Metro Mobility service would remain largely status quo, with only minimal service exapansion.

Medical Assistance Income Standard

This bill would increase by $27 per month (as allowed by federal law) the amount of money a person could receive in SSDI and still be eligible for Medical Assistance (MA).  In the House, HF 669 (Goodno), is forwarded for possible inclusion in the Health and Human Service omnibus bill.  

In the Senate, SF 542 (Berglin) is forwarded for possible inclu­sion in the Health and Family Security omnibus bill.

Cost of Living Increases for Direct Care Workers

This bill would increase the reimbursement rate to providers of direct care services, with the stipulation that providers give wage increases to non-administrative (direct care) employees.  HF 499 (Seifert), is being forwarded for possible inclusion in the House Human Service Finance omnibus bill and SF 112 (Samuelson) is going to the Senate Health and Family Service omnibus bill.

Medical assistance reimbursement rates inflation adjustment 

Both SF 674 (Berglin) and HF 789 (Goodno) have passed Finance committees and been forwarded for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Hearing Aid & Eyeglass Legislation 

This legislation would re­quire health insurance coverage to include eyeglasses (for per­sons who need them to lip read) and hearing aids.  SF 243 (Cohen) and HF  846 (Koskinen).  Passed in Senate; passed House Health and Human Services Finance for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

MinnesotaCare

These bills expand eligibility for MinnesotaCare to single adults and households without children.  They also create an exemption to the “no other health coverage” requirement under the program for children in certain families. In the Senate, this bill is SF 511(Lourey), and in the House it’s HF920 (Koski­nen).

Medical Marijuana Bill

This bill, SF 780 (Piper), was withdrawn by the author in the Senate.  In the House, HF 936 (Clark) will be studied over the summer, reworked to comply with federal guidelines, and re-introduced next year.

Common Vision

Advocating Change Together is seeking funding to continue community organizing and self-advocacy leadership devel­opment.  Representative Linder authored the House version of this bill and it passed out of both the House Jobs and Economic Devel­opment Policy and Finance Committees on March 22.  It has been referred for possible inclusion in the House Jobs and Economic Development Omnibus bill.  Representative McElroy is chair of the Finance committee, and is the person to contact to express sup­port of this bill.  Senator Janezich will carry this bill in the Senate, but no action has yet been taken there.

Special Education  

There is now only one bill (SF 296/HF 483) going through the legislature that addresses the 1998 legislation which required that all state special education laws and rules which exceed federal law be sunset July 1, 1999.   An agreement has been reached on all of the issues and the bill will be trav­elling separately instead of being included in the omnibus educa­tion bill.

The bill now contains language that will keep Minnesota rule language which requires transition services to be provided beginning at age 14.  IEP teams would meet to review the IEP and to make a manifestation determination if a student has been suspended for 5 or more consecutive days or ten or more cumulative days.  The meeting would be held immediately or within ten days.  An effort to make it easier to suspend and expel stu­dents was thwarted by a coalition of disability, poverty and civil rights groups and communities of color.  It was pointed out that a disproportionate number of children of color are suspended and that we need to find effective interventions and to use them early on.

The upper age limit would be dropped so that students could receive services until July 1 after they turn age 21.  This provision would not go into effect for three years to give stu­dents and their families time to adjust their transition plans.  The language dealing with variances for interpreters and trans­literators is being removed from the bill and the shortage of school interpreters will be addressed by a tri-agency team.

The Governor’s budget contains an increase of $97 million for special education.  The legislature is considering raising the percentage of state payment for special education and including other expenses – such as fringe benefits – as reimbursable costs.

Prescription Drug Coverage

The Minnesota Senior Drug Program could be expanded to people with disabilities under age 65 if Senate File 876 and House File 1769 pass.  These bills help people who are on Medicare and cannot afford a supplementary policy.  The bills also eliminate the $120 premium and instead replace it with a $35 monthly deductible. This is more affordable for people with disabilities living on fixed incomes.  Both bills, SF 876 and HF 1769 are now waiting to be possibly included in the health omnibus bills.

Work Incentives

If these bills pass, Medical Assistance eligibil­ity will be expanded to include employed persons with  disabili­ties.  SF 675 (Berglin), passed out of the Senate Health and Family  Security Committee.  HF 670 (Goodno) unanimously passed the House of Representatives on March 18. 

Home Choice Bill 

H.F. 967/S.F. 340.  Minnesota is one of twelve states selected to participate in the Fannie Mae HOMECHOICE Demonstration Project.  Fannie Mae is a Congressionally chartered organization  designed to promote home ownership opportunities throughout  the country.  The HOMECHOICE Project is  specifically designed to promote home ownership among people who have a varie­ty of disabling conditions.  People with disabilities have a very low rate of home ownership due to limited incomes, lack of credit histories, and service systems that promote provider controlled properties.  Fannie Mae requires both pre and post-purchase counseling and the appropriation request of $160,000 would go to disability organizations and community home counseling firms who have agreed to serve people through the program.   There would also be the possibility of providing downpayment assistance through the program.  H.F. 867 has been referred to the Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division in the House for considera­tion in the Omnibus funding bill.  Arc is working with supporters in the Senate to have the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency assume responsibility for this service in their appropriation bill.

Consumer Support Grants

To make it possible for people to purchase home care, personal care attendant services, or other services directly, rather than through an agency.  This often expands people’s options of who to hire, and the expense categories are broad enough to allow flexibility in the types of services purchased.  Currently, only state funds may be used for Consumer Support Grants, whereas services purchased through an agency have access to additional federal funding.  This legislation directs the state to pursue a waiver from the federal  government  that would allow Minnesota to use existing federal funds for  Consumer Support Grants, just like they do for services through an agency. SF 73 (Murphy), HF 356 (Dempsey) Act signed into law;   Chapter 10, 1999 Laws of Minnesota.

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