May 17 looms as deadline for adjournment

The final days of the Minnesota Legislature’s 2021 regular session are ticking down toward the May 17 adjournment date. Omnibus spending bills continue to be passed by the House and Senate. Conference committees took shape in mid-April and readied for the task of seeking agreement. When a state budget can be agreed upon is anyone’s guess.

The complex process of moving measures great and small to the finish line still leaves more questions than answers. Hanging over everything are calls for law enforcement reform, in the wake of the April 20 conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.

The call for reform legislation could be tied to passage of a budget, at least in the Minnesota House. House Democrats are pushing for reform; their Republican colleagues have brought forward measure to allow state agencies to continue operations under the previous biennium funding levels. Those measures would provide for continued state operations after June 30 and avoid the prospect of a contentious state shutdown. But that could leave out key funding increases sought for some disability community initiatives.

State lawmakers are expected to pass a $52 billion budget for the next two years’ operations. There’s a fair amount of difference in the omnibus bills that have come through the House and Senate, and with the potential for amendments, a lot of debate is likely. Once the Senate and house agree on bills, the chance to make amendments is gone.

Once the House and Senate reach agreement on bills, those won’t be open to amendments. No one is talking special session yet, especially after a record number of special sessions in 2020.

But the second year of restricted capital and state offices’ access due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what is seen as a lack of progress on several key issues, is testing the patience of has worn on many self-advocates.

A wild card this session is the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which Congress passed in March. It is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 117th United States Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. Its intent is to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession. It covers an array of needs, including home and community-based services.

One ask many disability service groups have gotten behind is for state officials to give priority to a one-time funding increase for disability waiver services, using dollars available from the American Rescue Act.

“Every day, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are on the frontlines, providing critical care and support to individuals with disabilities,” disability service provider Rise stated in an action  alert. “The irreplaceable impact DSPs make has been no more profound than during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are important investments being proposed for the critical Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program, that is an entirely separate disability service from waiver disability services and we are asking for your support of the entire disability services spectrum.”

American Rescue Plan dollars are popping up throughout budget discussions. While in most cases the funds provide needed support, Minnesota Council on Disability has raised a red flag about a proposal in the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy committee. It would replace state dollars for Metro Mobility with the federal funding. The concern outlined is that federal funds should supplement state support for paratransit, not replace state dollars.

Another wild card is that of bonding. 2021 is a budget year, not a bonding year. The House and Gov. Tim Walz are supporting additional bonding this session, given high needs and low interest rates.

The House Capital Investment Committee has put forward a preliminary proposal of $1.03 billion for bonding, with several state departments included. In the Senate, the Capital Investment Committee has met only once this session, with a much smaller proposal to amend previous spending.

Follow hearings and floor sessions online, at www.leg.mn.gov