It’s been a long summer already for Minnesota disability activists and their advocacy groups, as no progress has been made toward a legislative special session. Many group have taken up the call for a special session, with the organization ARRM bluntly issuing an action alert that stated, “Legislators, do your damn job.”
(ARRM is a nonprofit association of more than 200 provider organizations, businesses and advocates dedicated to leading the advancement of home and community-based services supporting people with disabilities.)
Other groups also urged members to call their state lawmakers, but almost all have already shifted their focus to the 2023 session.
Since the regular session’s end in May, many groups have issued public pleas for state lawmakers to reconvene and pass legislation on human services, transportation, bonding, public safety and other needs. How the state could use its historic surplus, which grew to a projection of $9.235 billion, was an issue where consensus couldn’t be reached.
As Access Press went to press, Minnesota legislative leaders had failed to reach an agreement on special session terms. Gov. Tim Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) told reporters June 16, that negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate had reached an impasse.
Hortman called the situation “deeply disappointing.” She said the House put forward four difference offers, but didn’t get a response.
Republican leadership countered that it had plans for the surplus, including more funding for disability service providers and nursing homes.
This was in contradiction to talks in the final week of the regular session, in which leaders said they had reached a deal on the surplus. One historic part of that deal would have been an end to taxes on Social Security. But the deal fell apart and little key legislation was passed. Some bills barely missed getting onto the House and Senate floors.
Walz has said he remains open to offers that would reopen the chance of a special session. The governor alone has the power to call such a session. Otherwise, any new spending would have wait until January 2023 when the new House and Senate meet. And with all state offices, and House and Senate seats on the November ballot, those decisions could be in the hands of a whole new group of people.
By June’s end, Walz had urged state lawmakers to return half of the state surplus in the form direct checks of $1,000 to individuals and $2,000 to families. That was by some as a way to encourage a special session and by others an election year giveaway.
“It’s simply unconscionable to be sitting on $7 billion when Minnesotans are trying to make those bill payments,” Walz said. “We can’t just throw up our hands.”
Bills that were passed during the regular session have been signed into law, including the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill ( NAMI) Minnesota’s competency restoration bill.
Among those present at the bill signing was Joseph Pfeiffer St. James and family were also present at the bill signing. Joseph’s husband Paul Pfeiffer was killed in June 2021 after being struck by a car driven by Christopher Rice. Rice had been found incompetent in October of 2020, and had a history of difficulty accessing care in the mental health system. He had recently been provisionally discharged while civilly committed when the incident occurred.
Elected officials and advocates said the legislation will save lives. The law’s implementation requires the judicial branch to act by January 2023, with the law fully taking effect in July 2023.