Many issues still uncertain as legislative session nears end

Disability advocates were scrambling at the capitol in early May as the Minnesota Legislature approached a May 19 mandatory adjournment deadline.

Photo courtesy of Jane McClure
Nancy Christensen of the Brain Injury Alliance is among the many people who spent time at the capitol during the 2014 session. The flags in her hand are from The 5% Campaign

Taxes, supplemental appropriations and bonding bills were among the issues still in play as Access Press went to press. Many important issues remained unresolved as the session neared its end, said Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) Executive Director Rebecca Covington. She noted that some state lawmakers wanted the session to wrap up before the mandatory adjournment deadline, possibly as soon as May 9.

The supplemental appropriations conference committee met the first weekend of May to start hammering out the differences between House and Senate bills. Lawmakers worked toward a midnight May 4 deadline, meaning advocates and lobbyists had to monitor 16 hours of meetings over the weekend. The committee was to meet again May 6.

As of Access Press deadline, the committee was working to reach agreements on how the $1.25 billion in the state’s budget surplus would be allocated. The money was eyed for a wide range of uses, including discretionary spending in health and human services and education. There was also pressure to present a package of tax cuts that the House, Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton could all agree on. How much to put in the state’s budget reserves was yet another issue, as was the amount to be allocated through bonding.

Bonding has been another focus for the disability community because of projects pending. (See for “Bonding requests generating debate” for more info)

The budget and surplus discussions have implications for one of the highest-profile disability community efforts. The 5% Campaign, which is meant to provide home care providers with a 5 percent increase in reimbursement for Home and Community-Based Services, appeared to be on solid footing as the session wound down. There was also a push to get funding for the State Quality Council. Reductions in parental fees were also on the table. Numerous other measures affecting mental health, chemical health, special education, autism, and the deaf, blind and deafblind communities were also up in the air as the session neared an end.

Two big measures still up in the air were the Medical Assistance income standard bill raising the spend-down limit, which would help any Minnesota’s citizens with disabilities to live above the poverty level. The inequity of forcing many Minnesotans to maintain poverty status to keep health care benefits has been a high-profile effort.

What also drew attention as the session neared its end is the need for changes to the 2013 Community First Services and Supports (CFSS) Program. This program is to replace the Personal Care Attendant Program later this year. The intent of CFSS is to facilitate transition out of institutional care, or prevent or delay future admissions to institutional care. It is also meant to allow people with disabilities to control their resources and direct their own care. But the push to change discriminatory language in the bill, tied to the definition of dependency, did not make it into the omnibus bill as of early May. That will limit the number of people eligible for CFSS and has raised red flags for many advocacy groups.

Although there is still uncertainty about how legislation will come out, most disability community leaders expressed optimism about the session as a whole. In a MN-CCD blog post, Mains’l President and Chief Executive Officer Terri Williams said the end of session is an “opportunity to celebrate the coming together of the legislative and disability communities.

“Minnesota citizens with a disability, the caregivers who support them, and a number of legislative champions, have worked hard this session to improve the lives of the entire community of people with disabilities. That is good for our state,” said Williams. “It is an affirmation that Minnesota continues to have a commitment to and valuing of all people. It further affirms that investing in initiatives that support the lives of people with disabilities and their care givers improves the quality of life for us all.”

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities is hosting the event which will include information from a panel of experts from the community, as well as recognition of legislators and activists who have made a difference. The gathering will be held to recap the 2014 session and get a upcoming preview for 2015 session at 1-2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21 at Goodwill/Easter Seals, 553 Fairview Avenue N., St Paul. Everyone wishing to attend should RSVP to Jo Erbes, at 952-818-8719 or jo@mnccd.org before noon on May 14.For updates on legislation, check the blog and posts at www.mnccd.org. Many individual organizations also post session blogs, so also check individual organization blogs and websites.